Review: The Morcai Battalion: The Pursuit by Diana Palmer

Review: The Morcai Battalion: The Pursuit by Diana PalmerThe Pursuit (The Morcai Battalion #5) by Diana Palmer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Morcai Battalion #5
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The first time Mekashe, Captain of the Imperial Guard, meets blue-eyed human beauty Jasmine Donally, the two nearly come to blows. Forever devoted to the Cehn-Tahr, Mekashe is forced to sever ties with the object of his adoration. Years pass before their paths cross again, but Mekashe hasn’t forgotten what transpired—or the way she makes his heart race. But even if he can forgive the past, insurmountable barriers still threaten to keep them worlds apart. With their mutual attraction escalating quickly, they’ll have to find a way to bridge the gap—or be lost to each other forever.

My Review:

At first it seemed like this book had a vampire problem. Not literally, there are no vampires in this science fiction romance. (If you want vampires in space read Break Out by Nina Croft – it’s awesome) But The Pursuit still began with the same problem that most vampire romances have – what in the galaxy does a 250 year old male want with an 18 year old female? Beyond the obvious. But in order for this to result in a believable happy ever after, she has to be something really really special for this relationship to work. After all, what do they have in common? While her fresh perspective on pretty much everything may seem charming for a while, she will grow out of it. Will the person she grows into still fit into his already very much established life?

Just as I got frustrated with the corner that it seemed this book was painting itself into, it took a sharp turn and jumped completely out. And got a whole lot better as a result.

At first, the story in The Pursuit reads an awful lot like a old-fashioned Harlequin category romance moved into space. The hero is rich, powerful and much, much, MUCH older than the naive, innocent, sheltered, beautiful and virginal heroine. It’s only when the story breaks that pattern that things really take off.

So to speak.

Mekashe is the commander of the Imperial Guard on his home planet, a member of the mysterious and secretive race called Cehn-Tahr. He is also a member of the Royal Clan, but fairly far down the line of succession.

He is also 250 years old, but looks like he’s in his mid-30s at most. His race was genetically engineered and enhanced at a point far back in their history. While they appear mostly human in public, their real form is clearly derived from a giant and sentient cat species. By position, Mekashe is a high-ranking military officer. His would-be inamorata has problems with both.

His emperor (and great uncle) has insisted that he take some of the R&R he’s entitled to by traveling on a passenger liner from Terravega, now the human home planet, to Memcache, his home.

On that journey he meets the woman of his dreams. Quite literally. He has been dreaming of tall, slim, blonde Jasmine Dupont for years. She is the daughter of the first human ambassador to Memcache, and honestly, at the beginning of the book she’s the epitome of the TSTL heroine.

Not only is she basically a child at 18, she is self-absorbed and offensive at every turn, to the point where she commits a diplomatic faux pas so bad that it costs her father his job and eventually his life, as well as kills any hope for the budding relationship between herself and Mekashe. Her stupidity could literally have killed her, as the offense she committed usually carries the death penalty.

It’s only when things hit absolute bottom that Jasmine finally becomes the person she was meant to be – a person who might be able to stand beside Mekashe as an equal – if they ever find each other again.

Escape Rating B: The first part of this book is frustrating as hell. Jasmine may be 18, but she acts like a child at every turn. She is derisive of the military and she hates and fears cats. Poor Mekashe sees her as his fated mate, or at any rate his mate for life, but is rightfully worried that she will react badly when she discovers his true identity and form. And he’s right to worry. It’s a disaster.

But a disaster that she is still strangely shielded from. The Cehn-Tahr are so secretive that her father is not allowed to tell her the reason for his dismissal. She doesn’t know what she did and therefore can’t learn from it. Her parents have protected, indulged and cosseted her at every turn, and it has done neither her nor them any favors.

It’s only when she’s at the very real end of her rope that she really takes responsibility for herself and her own life, even if she still doesn’t know what it was she did wrong. She finally grows up. She also tells herself that she hates the Cehn-Tahr in general and their emperor in particular, but her feelings for Mekashe never die – no matter how much she wants to kill them.

Circumstances (with a little help from their friends) finally push Mekashe and Jasmine into each other’s orbit again. And while the HEA resolves awfully quickly and the problems are solved too easily (to the point of deus ex machina  or in this case, perhaps deus ex medica, easy), by the time it happens, Jasmine has grown into a person who is worthy of it.

About that ending and all the people in it, as well as those who help along the way… This book probably makes no sense if you have not read the first and foundational book in the series, The Morcai Battalion. Which was surprisingly awesome military science fiction. While the main characters in that book are mostly secondary or tertiary characters in this one, the worldbuilding is all done in that first book. The romances that follow it, including this one, are the wrapping up of the loose ends created in that original scenario. So while I don’t think you need to read all of the intervening books to get to this one – that first one is essential. And highly recommended.

Review: The Darkest Promise by Gena Showalter

Review: The Darkest Promise by Gena ShowalterThe Darkest Promise by Gena Showalter
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Lords of the Underworld #13
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


New York Times
bestselling author Gena Showalter returns with a sizzling Lords of the Underworld story about an iron-willed sovereign and the somber beauty who melts him with a glance

Possessed by the demon of Misery, Cameo isn't allowed to experience joy. If she dares, her memory is wiped clean. With no other recourse, she sneaks into a land more fantastical than any fairy tale, determined to find the one man with the key to her redemption.

Lazarus the Cruel and Unusual rules his kingdom with a single unwavering focus: to build his army and annihilate his enemies. Nothing distracts him - until Cameo. He is relentless in his quest to make her smile and seduce her into his bed.

As dark forces conspire against them, threatening to destroy the fragile bond they've forged, the once-calm Lazarus grows crazed. Every heart-stopping kiss and wicked touch causes Cameo to teeter on the brink of happiness. But if she falls, she risks forgetting him forever

My Review:

The Darkest Promise is the hopefully lucky 13th book in the Lords of the Underworld series. It is appropriately just a bit different from the previous books, because the demon in this particular entry inhabits Cameo, the lone woman among the men who became Lords of the Underworld by hosting a demon.

As Cameo herself puts it, she’s the lone Smurfette among all the Smurfs, always having to be twice as hard and four times as badass to get the men to take her seriously.

Unless, of course she lets her demon out. Cameo’s demon is Misery, and when she lets him out, everyone takes her very seriously – about as seriously as a heart attack. Or the deepest darkest depression ever known. When Misery talks, everyone around them cries, runs away and tries to slit their own wrists.

Of course, Cameo’s demon Misery does not just inflict himself on those around Cameo, his greatest victim is Cameo herself, who has him stuck inside her head and is therefore always available for him to do his worst to. And he does, every single day of her long and miserable life.

But even though Misery makes her forget the few times that Cameo manages, well, not to be completely miserable, she is aware that there is one male in the cosmos who made her happy, however briefly. All she has to do is find her way back to the Spirit Realms to see if Lazarus the Cruel and Unusual, Lord of the Realm of Grimm and Fantic, is willing to make her happy yet again.

And if he’s willing to tell her everything that Misery made her forget.

Unfortunately for both Lazarus and Cameo, he isn’t merely the one man who is immune to her demon. Because Lazarus is cursed by his own blood to be turned into a crystal chrysalis by constant exposure to the one woman who is his mate – his obsession. For Lazarus, Cameo is that woman, and her initial visit to his realm has already begun the deadly process of crystallization.

Lazarus has vengeance to wreck before he becomes to enfeebled to carry out his plans. Being with Cameo dramatically shortens the time he has available.

But she is his obsession, and he can’t resist. He isn’t even sure that he wants to. While Cameo, knowing that she will be the cause of her love’s death, opens herself even further to the demon within.

Escape Rating B: As long as this series is, I’m not sure that this book will make any sense without reading at least some of the previous entries. Particularly as this is not the first time we’ve met Cameo and Lazarus and watched them interact. And that’s a good thing, because without those previous meetings this book would smack of insta-love.

The premise behind this whole series is still a fascinating one. The Lords of the Underworld are the warriors who made the extremely foolish mistake of opening Pandora’s Box. When the box was opened, all those escaped demons needed a place to live (and work their worst) so they inhabited the bodies of the warriors near them. A fitting punishment.

But as the series has progressed, those warriors have managed to find love and happiness in spite of the demons they harbor. And with the help of their friends and allies, they are closing in on the location of the Box and perhaps a cure for their “condition”.

Of course, as immortal warriors they have also gathered a whole lot of equally immortal enemies, and often find themselves caught in the crossfire between rival factions. In the case of this entry, they are caught up in the ongoing warfare between Hades and Lucifer.

And yes, this is a story where all the pantheons seem to be real. And active.

The romance in this paranormal romance is between two beings who expect to be hated and reviled – Lazarus, son of the monster Typhon and Cameo, Mother of Misery. These are two people who have zero expectations of a happy ever after, or of ever finding happy at all, and yet, they are perfect for each other – if they can leap over the baggage that they carry and get past millennia of negative expectations and destroyed hopes.

In the end, love does conquer all, and in a way that the reader has been expecting pretty much from the beginning of the story. But it’s an interesting read watching her work for it.

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Review: Fast Burn by Lori Foster

Review: Fast Burn by Lori FosterFast Burn (Body Armor, #4) by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Body Armor #4
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 20th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For the woman who’s his perfect match, he’s willing to break the rules…

The moment Brand Berry meets beautiful, driven Sahara Silver, the connection between them is electric. It’s also something he can’t pursue. Sahara wants him, sure—to join Body Armor, where his MMA skills, size and cocky attitude make him perfect for her elite crew of bodyguards. For Sahara, the agency always comes first, and Brand needs more. Yet when she’s kidnapped by men searching for her missing brother, he doesn’t hesitate.

Somewhere along the way, flirting with Brand for the sake of business turned very personal. Despite his refusal to join Body Armor, it’s Brand who steps up when Sahara needs him most. Now there’s no more time for games, and no point denying the hunger they both feel. They’ll escape together or not at all. But if they survive, can Sahara finally surrender control to claim this blazing passion?

My Review:

Fast Burn is the fourth and it looks like final book in the Body Armor series. I’ve had a mixed reaction to the books in this series. I loved books two and three, Hard Justice and Close Contact, but had a lukewarm reaction to the first book in the series, Under Pressure.

My feelings about Fast Burn are all too similar to my feelings about Under Pressure. Let me explain…

This series is romantic suspense. That has meant that the bodyguards from the Body Armor Agency, former MMA fighters all, have a tendency to fall in love with the body they are guarding. But Fast Burn is a bit different, because the body that needs protection in this case is the owner of the agency, Sahara Silver.

And the man who wants to guard her is not part of Body Armor. Not that she hasn’t tried to recruit Brand Berry, but that Brand has refused to be recruited, in spite of Sahara’s patented full-court press.

Brand is interested in Sahara and not her Agency. He does not want to work for a woman that he wants to date. And a whole lot more. It makes sense to this reader. They can either have a personal relationship or a working one, but not both – especially not in their case, where both of them have the need to be in control of absolutely everything all the time. Compromise is not going to be easy for either of them.

One of the underlying plot threads in this entire series revolves around Sahara’s missing brother Scott. Scott has been missing and presumed dead for a couple of years now, after his boat was found with his girlfriend’s dead body on it and plenty of his own spilled blood along with hers. But his body was never found, and Sahara believes that Scott is out there, still alive.

When a bunch of thugs kidnap Sahara in order to get back the money that Scott owes them, one way or another, their leader believes that putting Sahara in danger will bring Scott out of the woodwork. He might be right, but before that can happen, it brings out the protective instincts of every one of the guys that Sahara has hired at Body Armor. As well as the one that she hasn’t, Brand Berry.

Sahara is now the person with the target on her back, and Brand is more than willing to step up and protect her – 24/7. But not as a member of her staff. Not at all. He just wants to protect her, and wipe the floor with the guys who are after her. Sahara isn’t sure that she can give up being in charge 24/7 in order to let someone take care of her, even for a second.

But the sharks are circling, and it’s a race to the finish. But whose?

Escape Rating C+: One of the things that made the Body Armor series so good was the character of Sahara Silver. As the owner of the agency, she has been part of every single book, and generally a fairly large part. She’s been the person that many of the women in the stories initially turn to, and she’s been kind, understanding and helpful without either giving up any of her femininity or any of her take charge agency. Either the actual agency, Body Armor, or her own personal agency as a mover and shaker in each story.

She loses all of that in Fast Burn. The whole story is all about all the guys, but particularly Brand, patting her on the head and letting her know that they’ve got this and that she really should let them take over and not worry her pretty little head. Whenever she tries to contradict or correct them, they pretty much ignore whatever she says.

While the possibility of her missing brother not only being alive but protecting her from the sidelines is certainly enough to make anyone just a bit crazy, Sahara seems to go off the rails and fall apart, giving Brand the chance to swoop in and protect her – whether she needs it or not.

As one of the characters says in one of my favorite video games, “swooping is bad”.

The men, but particularly Brand, do their level best to keep Sahara from participating in an operation that is all hers – it’s both all about her brother and all about a gang of idiots that keep trying to kidnap her and even succeed more than once. She also runs off half-cocked and puts herself in danger in ways that are definitely outside her character until this book.

This included an added filip of a trope I dislike, the one where the villain has a hard on for the female in danger and has the strong desire to take her and break her. This particular villain was much less vile than most, but that added element wasn’t necessary to ramp up the amount of danger Sahara kept landing herself in.

At the same time, I really love the character of Sahara, and I wanted to see her get her HEA as well as solve the mystery of what happened to her brother. I’ve liked all of the men that she has recruited for Body Armor, and it was fun to catch up with them a bit and see just how much they all care about her boss. I just wish it hadn’t been necessary to take away so much of Sahara’s agency to protect her.

I hope we see more characters like Sahara has been in the previous books, women who are intelligent, capable and very much in charge while still being happy and proud to be women. And we shouldn’t have to watch them sacrifice who they are to get their HEA.

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Review: Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins + Giveaway

Review: Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins + GiveawayNow That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on December 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

One step forward. Two steps back. The Tufts scholarship that put Nora Stuart on the path to becoming a Boston medical specialist was a step forward. Being hit by a car and then overhearing her boyfriend hit on another doctor when she thought she was dying? Two major steps back.

Injured in more ways than one, Nora feels her carefully built life cracking at the edges. There's only one place to land: home. But the tiny Maine community she left fifteen years ago doesn't necessarily want her. At every turn, someone holds the prodigal daughter of Scupper Island responsible for small-town drama and big-time disappointments.

With a tough islander mother who's always been distant and a wild-child sister in jail, unable to raise her daughter--a withdrawn teen as eager to ditch the island as Nora once was--Nora has her work cut out for her if she's going to take what might be her last chance to mend the family.

But as some relationships crumble around her, others unexpectedly strengthen. Balancing loss and opportunity, a dark event from her past with hope for the future, Nora will discover that tackling old pain makes room for promise...and the chance to begin again.

My Review:

Robert Frost said that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” He said nothing about them having to like it. Or you.

Nora Stuart feels like she has to return home, to tiny Scupper Island, to see if she can get her life back on track after an accident. And a wake up call.

Nora’s life has been gray for a while now. She’s been going through the motions after something she refers to cryptically as the “Big Bad Event”. She figures that she’ll snap out of it eventually, and go back to being bright, sparkling, electric Nora, who escaped her tiny island home, her broken family, and her history as the high school “troll” to become a successful doctor.

But when the Beantown Bug Killers van mows her down and nearly kills her outside the hospital, it’s kind of a cosmic kick in the pants. As is waking up in recovery to see her boyfriend telling her nurse that he was planning to break up with her but now can’t as she’ll need help after her accident.

Nora decides she doesn’t need his help THAT bad. She can always go home to her mother on Scupper Island, and face all the demons she left behind. And while that might seem a bit melodramatic, the fact is that in high school, the other students pretty much were demons in the way they tormented fat, lonely, miserable Nora.

Going back will give her the chance to mend fences with her extremely capable but emotionally distant mother, reconnect with the niece that she has been ruthlessly pushed away from, and hopefully discover what really happened the day her father left the island and his family forever, and seemingly took all the bright happiness of her childhood with him.

But Nora left Scupper Island 17 years ago with the town scholarship to Tufts University, and no one seems to have forgotten that Nora “stole” the scholarship that should have gone to the town’s golden boy, That scholarship was given to the high school senior with the highest GPA, and Nora won fair and square. Not that anyone believes that, not even Nora.

Even though small towns have long memories, Nora discovers that some things (and people) have changed. A lot. And some not at all.

The question is whether Nora has changed enough to let herself be, not the miserable child she was, nor the bright, sparkly person she chose to be, but the person she really is. And to discover the best life to make that person, her real self, happy.

Escape Rating A-: Kristan Higgins writes quintessential “women’s fiction”, and as much as I hate the term, I love her storytelling.

The story of Now That You Mention It is all about Nora and her relationships with the women in her life; her unapproachable mother, her lost sister, and her disaffected niece, but it’s also about Nora’s relationship with the person she used to be. Part of her journey is for Boston-Nora-the-Doctor to make peace with Scupper-Island-Nora, formerly known as the troll. And it’s not going to be easy for those two people to meet in the mushy middle and make up Nora-who-is-just-Nora.

There is a romance as part of Nora’s journey, but it’s not the focus of the story. The focus is on Nora making peace with her own past and taking charge of her own present.

Her past has a lot of crap in it that needs to be uncovered and worked through. Nora’s memories of life on Scupper Island after her father left are as painful to read as they would have been to experience. In the wake of that unresolved tragedy, Nora threw herself into academic overachievement and self-comforting overeating, while her sister turned into a bitchy member of the in-crowd of Nora’s tormentors and her mother just kept things together as best as she could.

Now it’s up to Nora and her mother to make some kind of peace, and for the town to make its peace with Nora. And for her to do for her niece what she was never able to do for her sister, and to find out why.

In the end, this is the story of a healing journey for those who can be healed, like Nora and her mother Sharon and niece Poe. It’s also about the acceptance of the things that can’t be changed. Like the past. And her sister.

Nora’s memories of her past on the island make for hard reading. Anyone who remembers being bullied at school may also find them triggering, and I’ll confess I skipped a bit through those parts. But they add depth and poignancy to Nora’s difficult but ultimately rewarding journey.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Now That You Mention It to one lucky (US/CAN) commenter.

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Review: Close Contact by Lori Foster + Giveaway

Review: Close Contact by Lori Foster + GiveawayClose Contact (Body Armor, #3) by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Body Armor #3
Published by Harlequin Books on November 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

There’s no resisting a desire like this…

MMA fighter Miles Dartman’s casual arrangement with personal shopper Maxi Nevar would be many men’s fantasy. She seeks him out, they have mindblowing sex, she leaves. Rinse, repeat. Yet lately, Miles wants more. And when Maxi requests his services via the Body Armor security agency, he’s ready to finally break through her defenses—and protect her day and night.

Receiving a large inheritance has brought chaos and uncertainty into Maxi’s life. Her ex has resurfaced, along with lots of former “friends,” and someone is making mysterious threats. Then there’s Miles, who doesn’t ask for anything…except her trust. Pleasure is easy. Now Maxi has to give her heart as well as her body…or risk losing a man who could be everything she needs.

My Review: 

The Body Armor Agency needs a new motto. Perhaps something on the order of “We’ll protect your body, and we’ll steal your heart.” Because this series, so far, is all wrapped in the trope of the bodyguard and his protectee falling for each other while dodging whatever is after her.

The start of Close Contact is a bit different from the other books, because MMA fighter turned bodyguard Miles Dartmann and personal shopper Maxi Nevar already know each other, in the Biblical sense, before the book begins.

That Maxi is the one who cut and run from their no-strings-attached fling still bothers Miles. A lot. And not just because he’s usually the one who leaves. It felt like they were really starting to get somewhere, and not just between the sheets, when Maxi disappeared without a trace.

But when she wakes up in the middle of the night, out in the middle of the field next to the house she inherited from her grandmother, with no recollection of how she got there, she remembers that Miles was about to start his new job as a bodyguard when they hooked up.

Because Maxi needs a bodyguard. She’s not sure who she needs guarding from, or even why, but someone keeps messing with her, her house, her stuff, and her life. At first, she chalked up the tiny incidents as misremembering or accidents, but waking up by the pond could only have happened the way it did if someone put her there.

The question is why. And for answers, she turns to Miles, his boss Sahara Silver, and Body Armor.

At first, only Sahara believes Maxi. Miles, still stinging a bit from Maxi’s rejection, is certain that there’s another jilted lover in there someplace who decided to get some payback. It’s not until he comes out to Maxi’s rather remote little farmhouse and witnesses things for himself that he finally gets on board.

And just as he does, the incidents ramp up. Whatever is happening is escalating, and Maxi still doesn’t know why.

It could have to do with her inheritance of the farmhouse and her grandmother’s surprisingly large assets. After all, her brother and sister both believe that they should have gotten a bigger share, and that Maxi should sell the property and just give it to them.

It could be her cheating ex-fiance, who suddenly seems to want her back now that she’s come into her inheritance, and won’t take no for an answer.

It could be the local law enforcement officer who seems to be waiting for Maxi to fall into his arms. A plan that is definitely thwarted by Miles’ presence in Maxi’s life – and eventually her bed.
But the longer that Miles spends with Maxi, the more of the potential suspects he is able to eliminate. And the closer that he gets to the woman who has staked out a place in his heart.

The hotter their romance gets, the more the suspense ratchets up. When the villain is finally revealed, it’s a surprise to everyone involved. Very nearly a deadly one.

Escape Rating A-: Close Contact is every bit as much fun as Hard Justice, the previous book in the series. And I absolutely loved that one.

One of the things I enjoyed about Close Contact was definitely Maxi. And not just because she feels not merely duty-bound, but actually enjoys taking care of all of her grandmother’s many, many (many) cats.

Don’t worry, she’s not a hoarder. The cats live outside, and mostly in the barn. But her grandmother loved them and Maxi cares for them – especially after one of them sticks by her the night she wakes up by the pond.

But what I really liked about Maxi was the way that she takes her life by the horns and learns to stand up for herself. She’s always felt like a bit of a failure, because she isn’t as ambitious and hard-driving as her siblings. But even though she’s used to jumping when they say jump, she still doesn’t give in or change what she believes is right, although she tries to keep the peace between them. It’s interesting watching that dynamic change over the course of the story.

Also, Maxi is right, at least about who isn’t her tormentor. Miles wants to suspect both her siblings and her ex, and they do all have reasons that foster that suspicion. But Maxi knows it isn’t them. I’m also glad it isn’t the ex, because that trope has been done to death.

And something else that was really well done was the forthright way that Miles dealt with the end of his MMA career and the reasons for that ending. I wish that the real-life NFL was half so honest about the risks of concussions and CTE.

The suspense part of this story ratchets up nicely. Or chillingly. It’s done well. The perpetrator is the person everyone least suspects, and the reasons for the whole mess are utterly tragic but at least began from a place that is easy to empathize with, even if the current results are well beyond the pale.

The romance in Close Contact is a bit fast, but it makes sense in context. They were already on their way to falling for each other when Maxi disappeared, so it makes sense that once they are forced into each other’s company, things eventually pick up where they left off. And it is right that they do.

If you like bodyguard romances, the Body Armor series is a winner. And you don’t have to read them all to get into them, but they’re fun, so why not?

We also get a chance to see hints of the next book in the series. It looks like Body Armor owner Sahara Silver may have finally met her match. And I can’t wait to read all about it in Fast Burn.

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

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Review: Christmastime Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: Christmastime Cowboy by Maisey Yates + GiveawayChristmastime Cowboy (Copper Ridge, #10) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Copper Ridge #10
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on October 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It's Christmas in Copper Ridge, and love is waiting to be unwrapped…

Falling for a bad boy once is forgivable. Twice would just be foolish. When Sabrina Leighton first offered her teenage innocence to gorgeous, tattooed Liam Donnelly, he humiliated her, then left town. The hurt still lingers. But so does that crazy spark. And if they have to work together to set up her family winery's new tasting room by Christmas, why not work him out of her system with a sizzling affair?

Thirteen years ago, Liam's boss at the winery offered him a bribe—leave his teenage daughter alone and get a full ride at college. Convinced he wasn't good enough for Sabrina, Liam took it. Now he's back, as wealthy as sin and with a heart as cold as the Oregon snow. Or so he keeps telling himself. Because the girl he vowed to stay away from has become the only woman he needs, and this Christmas could be just the beginning of a lifetime together…

My Review:

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, particularly in Copper Ridge, Oregon.

Falling for a bad boy once is not merely forgivable, but probably a rite of passage to adulthood. We all do it at least once, and usually learn that the wild ride isn’t worth the inevitable fall. Falling for one twice is a pattern. Falling for the same bad boy twice is usually well beyond foolish.

But not for Sabrina Leighton. In this second-chance-at-love romance, there are a whole ton of, let’s call them mitigating circumstances.

The first time she fell for Liam Donnelly, she was all of 17 and he was 20. There was a certain amount of young and stupid involved on both of their parts. And the fact is that while the emotions may have been very, very real, nothing actually happened outside of those emotions.

Thirteen years ago, the one real thing that they had was friendship – a friendship that Liam broke, along with Sabrina’s heart, when he left. Not without a word, but with a whole lot of words that have continued to haunt Sabrina all these years.

And most of those words weren’t even true. But the scars they left still hurt.

Now that Liam is back in Copper Ridge, as part of the Donnelly brothers return to town in the wake of their grandfather’s death (see Slow Burn Cowboy, Down Home Cowboy and Wild Ride Cowboy for the full story) Liam and Sabrina keep running into each other, whether Sabrina wants to or not. (You don’t have to read the entire Copper Ridge series for the Donnellys’ piece of it to make sense, but it probably helps to read this quartet)

Copper Ridge is a very small town.

That Sabrina and Liam have unfinished business is pretty obvious to pretty much everyone, even if not everyone knows all the gory details. So whether Sabrina’s boss (and ex-sister-in-law) Lindy sets Sabrina up to deal with her unfinished business, or whether that’s just a happy side-effect, Sabrina is stuck. It’s part of her job to work with Liam on setting up a tasting room in town that will feature wines from her winery and cheeses from his ranch – as well as trap a whole bunch of tourist dollars and funnel customers back to both their businesses.

It’s a great business idea – even though at least initially it feels like a really lousy personal one.

But the chemistry that Liam denied all those years ago, and that Sabrina wasn’t quite mature enough to understand, hasn’t abated one little bit in the intervening years. The only way that they can manage to work together is not to get past what happened in the past, but to go through it.

To hash out all the stored resentments, explore all that bottled chemistry, and attempt to get each other out of their systems.

Like that’s ever going to happen.

Escape Rating B: Christmastime Cowboy feels like the cherry on top of the Donnelly Brothers subseries of the Copper Ridge ice cream sundae.

Also a real “cherry”, as Sabrina has never managed to find a man who even gets close to turning her crank after Liam ran off all those years ago.

I love the way that this author does angsty heroines, but Sabrina’s angst didn’t quite have the deep, tolling bell ring of angst of the heroines of Down Home Cowboy and Wild Ride Cowboy. Not that Sabrina hasn’t been hurt, but her wounds seem a bit more self-inflicted that either Alison’s or Clara’s.

While the story loses a bit of depth in comparison with the others because of that, one of the good parts of Christmastime Cowboy is the way that Sabrina finally manages to figure that out for herself, with only a couple of glancing blows from the clue-by-four administered by Liam.

Not that he doesn’t have plenty of his own baggage to deal with. But his baggage was dropped on him by his dysfunctional parents. Not that he hasn’t added plenty of extra pieces along the way all by himself. But he needs multiple hits from that clue-by-four, not just administered by Sabrina, but also by his brother Alex, before he finally figures out what’s been staring him in the face all along.

So the story, as it has often been in this series, is one where the hero is just certain that he hasn’t got a heart, or if it’s still in there it’s three sizes too small and that he’s just not worthy of giving it to anyone else. Ever.

The heroine, on that other hand, figures out how to dump enough of her own baggage to start a real life for herself, one that she’d much prefer to have with the hero, but that she knows she can manage to make on her own once her stomped on heart finally heals.

As formulas go, this one is always a winner.

Christmastime Cowboy is the final book in the Copper Ridge series. But the romance is just moving a bit down the road to neighboring Gold Valley in Smooth-Talking Cowboy. No one needs to smooth-talk this reader to jump back to this author’s next series. All of this author’s next series!

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

I am giving away a copy of Christmastime Cowboy to one lucky US/CAN commenter:

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Review: A Snow Country Christmas by Linda Lael Miller

Review: A Snow Country Christmas by Linda Lael MillerA Snow Country Christmas (The Carsons of Mustang Creek, #4) by Linda Lael Miller
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance, western romance
Series: Carsons of Mustang Creek #4
Pages: 256
Published by Harlequin Books on September 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It's a Christmas affair to remember as a Hollywood mogul discovers his inner cowboy—and the woman of his dreams—amid the rugged beauty of Wyoming.

Raine McCall would take snow-covered mountains over a star-studded premiere any day. But when hotshot movie executive Mick Branson arranges dinner on Christmas Eve to discuss a work opportunity, she's intrigued—by the offer and the man. She's a no-makeup, no-frills single mom, who's happy with her quiet life. Sharing chili cheeseburgers and sizzling kisses with Mick is sure heating up her holiday, but country girl and power player don't mix…

It's not just work that's brought Mick back to Mustang Creek. Since he first visited to oversee a documentary, free-spirited graphic designer Raine has been in his head. Her approach to life is as unconventional as her quirky holiday ornaments. Their attraction is undeniable—and so are their differences. Putting down roots in the Wild West wasn't in the script. But there are some Christmas gifts you can't walk away from, even when they turn your whole world upside down…

My Review:

A Snow Country Christmas is a candy cane of a Christmas romance, sweet with just the right touch of shivery, bracing coolness to make a delicious holiday treat.

It is also the perfect coda to the Carsons of Mustang Creek series. And even to the Brides of Bliss County series that it spun off from. It feels like all the story lines have been tied up with a big red Christmas-y bow, wrapped around this lovely story like a present.

The romance is of the “opposites attract” variety. Except it kind of isn’t. Raine McCall and Mick Branson are both certain that they have next to nothing in common. And on the surface they may both be right, but in the ways that it counts, they are totally and blissfully wrong.

Raine has been in the background of the entire Carsons of Mustang Creek series, and with good reason. She’s Slater (the hero of Once a Rancher) Carson’s ex. Not his ex-wife, just his ex. But also the very much present mother of his daughter Daisy, now approaching adolescence at breakneck speed. Raine knew that she and Slater, while they had a great time, didn’t suit for the long haul, so when she became pregnant and he made the expected offer of marriage, she turned him down.

They are, however, still very good friends and great co-parents for Daisy. It’s impossible not to believe that things worked out better this way for everyone, especially Daisy.

But Raine’s reaction to that expected proposal does sum up her life philosophy in a lot of ways. Raine is unconventional. Not just because she’s an artist, but because she’s found a place for herself and a way of living that work for her, and she’s learned not to pay attention to anyone who thinks she’s wrong for not doing any of the expected things.

Mick Branson does the expected things, and pretty much always has. Raine calls him “Mr. Boardroom” because he’s a high-powered wheeler-dealer in Hollywood and plenty of other places. Mick is also the man who finds the funding for Slater’s award-winning documentary films.

But somewhere along the way, his work with Slater as well as the many visits it’s required to Mustang Creek, have given Mick a new perspective – or put him in touch with a part of himself that he left behind. He’s fallen hard for Wyoming in general, and Mustang Creek in particular. He’s come to realize that at 40 or thereabouts, he’s tired of spending his life on the road or in the air, and wants to put down some roots and have a real life.

And he’s fallen even harder for Raine McCall, a woman whose life and roots are in Mustang Creek and who intends to keep them there – no matter how great a temptation Mick might provide. And as they explore the chemistry that has been simmering between them since their first meeting, they discover that under the surface, they have way more in common than anyone ever imagined.

And that it’s not just a mutual love of her famous grandfather’s novels.

Escape Rating A: I don’t give full A grades to many novellas. Even when I love them, there’s something about the novella format that usually leaves me itching for just a bit more. That’s not true with A Snow Country Christmas.

Because we’ve met these people before, and the setting is already established, the length here is just right. It also mirrors the length of time the story covers, over one long Christmas holiday, and it also seems to parallel the timing and course of Raine’s grandfather’s unfinished last novel.

That unfinished novel provides a touch of nostalgia as well as a way for the old man that Raine loved to give his haunting approval of her choice. And it gives Mick a vehicle in which he can explore his own suppressed creative side. The way that the unfinished story of the greenhorn and the unconventional woman of the West parallels Mick and Raine’s own romance was a marvelous touch.

For series fans, A Snow Country Christmas is the perfect ending to a delightful series. But, while I think this novella is complete in itself, it just doesn’t feel like the right place for beginners to start the series. For the best time in Mustang Creek, start back with The Marriage Pact, the first of the Brides of Bliss County series, to meet everyone and get to know this marvelous bunch of people.

I’ll miss these folks. But the romance between independent, unconventional Raine and thoughtful, considerate and willing-to-adapt Mick was the icing on what has been a really delicious cake.

Reviewer’s Note: The page count for this book on both Goodreads and Amazon is pretty far off. At 1700 kindle locations, A Snow Country Christmas is definitely a novella, and probably around 150 pages in length. A nice, quick read. With that number of kindle locations, the 384 pages listed on Goodreads is impossible without a ridiculous amount of white space. The 256 pages listed on Amazon probably refers to the large print edition. If you’re looking for a nice long read in this setting, go back to either The Marriage Pact or Once a Rancher, the first books in The Brides of Bliss County and The Carsons of Mustang Creek.

Review: Second Chance Girl by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Review: Second Chance Girl by Susan Mallery + GiveawaySecond Chance Girl (Happily Inc, #2) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Happily Inc #2
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on September 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


A touching modern fairy tale that won't let go of your heart, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fool's Gold romances!

Mathias Mitchell's easy smile hides a world of hurt. After the worst kind of family betrayal, he moves to Happily Inc., California—the wedding destination town supplies a steady stream of bridesmaids, perfect for his "no promises, no pain" lifestyle. Yet he can't stop watching for his beautiful, elusive neighbor on the animal preserve behind their homes.

Gamekeeper Carol Lund knows she's not special enough to attract an alpha male like Mathias, so his offer to help her adopt a herd for her lonely giraffe is surprising—and his determined seduction, even more so. But just as she finally welcomes him into her bed, his careless actions crush her heart. Will she give him a second chance to prove she'll always come first in his heart?

My Review:

Welcome back to Happily Inc., the adorable little town saved by a massive PR stunt. While the legend of the brides and the wagon train is pretty much pure bunk, it turned this small town on the edge of the California desert into a destination wedding extravaganza. Happily Inc loves its brides, and they love it right back.

The terrific first book in the series, You Say It First, focused on one of the creators of those destination weddings, Pallas Saunders and her Weddings In A Box, now very much out of the box, business. But now that we’re into the second book of the series, it looks like the series as a whole is focused on the artistically talented Mitchell brothers finding their happy ever afters, in spite of the way that their parents seriously screwed them all up.

Carol Lund is the gamekeeper at the local wildlife rescue operation. While Carol’s need to find a herd for her giraffe Millie provides much of the driving force in this story, the entire operation that Carol, her dad and her uncle have created is a marvelous thing. Her dad and uncle began with a cutting edge recycling and waste management company, added a fantastic wildlife refuge and are continuing to expand their world-renowned business into profitable projects that help their community and the surrounding area.

Carol, and Millie, and the zebras, gazelles and other animals, are just part of the package, but a great one. But Millie is lonely. Male giraffes may be solitary, but female giraffes live in herds, and Millie doesn’t have one. However, creating a herd of giraffes is not exactly cheap. It’s not just purchasing the animals, but also transporting them, dealing with the host of regulations, and then feeding and caring for them.

Carol needs half of a million dollars. That’s a lot of giraffe feed. Or it’s a lot of weeks (months, years) of collecting from little tins all over town.

And that’s where Matthias Mitchell comes in. He’s her neighbor. He’s also one of the very talented Mitchell brothers. And he’s utterly gorgeous and Carol, like many of the single women in Happily Inc., has more than a bit of a crush on him. But Matthias doesn’t do relationships. He’s rather infamous for doing one of the bridesmaids from pretty much every out-of-town wedding party. Easy sex, no commitments.

But something about Carol, and Millie, draws him in. And not just because they are neighbors who run into each other regularly. Or because watching Carol and Millie walk together around the preserve is the highlight of his day.

Matthias wants to help Carol. He’s also having a damn hard time admitting to himself that he just wants Carol. But everything he does to help Millie pulls the two of them together that much closer. And the deeper in he gets, the more he wants, and the less he’s able to resist.

Even though he’s sure that he’s much too damaged to be good relationship material for anyone. Especially someone he actually cares about.

And he might be right.

Escape Rating B: I liked Carol and Matthias a lot, and I also enjoyed the secondary relationship between Carol’s sister Violet and the quite surprising Duke of Somerbrooke. I actually enjoyed the development of Violet’s relationship more. It begins with a meet-cute, only to discover that they met even cuter once long ago. And after Ulrich screws up, he gives very good grovel. Their story was just plain fun from beginning to end.

The thing about Carol and Matthias’ relationship is that Matthias is really screwed up. Not that Carol doesn’t have plenty of her own issues, because of course she does or we wouldn’t get some of the lovely delicious tension in the story.

But Matthias’ father Ceallach Mitchell is the ogre that looms over the entire story. I want to say that he’s evil, but unfortunately he’s just human. And a complete and utter bastard. Also a violent abuser who only stopped when the oldest of his sons got big enough to stand between him and the rest.

Ceallach has attempted to ruin all of his sons’ lives in the desperate attempt to keep any of them from outshining his legendary artistic self. And he’s aided and abetted by his doormat of a wife, the boys’ mother, who has never defended her sons from her husband’s abusive fists or his destructive words.

That she still doesn’t understand why they can’t get along is icing on a very ugly cake. Especially when the whole family comes to Happily Inc for a family wedding, and Ceallach does his best to ruin everything his sons have touched, including the fund raiser for Millie that Matthias has arranged.

From the moment Ceallach shows up, he sucks all the air out of every room. That it sounds like is named for the “Winter Hag” of Celtic folklore is weirdly appropriate, because he overshadows every scene with a deep and abiding chill.

His sons have turned out alright in spite of him, so I hope we see less of him in any future books in the series. He’s done more than enough damage already. And I do hope there are future books in this series, because Happily Inc is a lovely place and the people we’ve met (with the exception of the Mitchell parents) are marvelous and great fun. I want to see everyone get their HEA.

It looks like Matthias’ “twin” brother Ronan might be next. I certainly hope so, because he really needs it.

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

Susan and Harlequin are giving away a $100 Amazon or Barnes and Noble Gift Card to one extremely lucky participant on this tour!

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Review: Sugar Pine Trail by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Sugar Pine Trail by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawaySugar Pine Trail (Haven Point, #7) by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, holiday romance
Series: Haven Point #7
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on September 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An unlikely attraction brings comfort, joy and unforgettable romance this holiday season!

Librarian Julia Winston is ready to ditch the quiet existence she's been living. She's made a list of new things to experience, but falling for Jamie Caine, her sexy military pilot neighbor, isn't one of them. Julia's looking to conquer life, not become the heartbreaker's latest conquest. But when two young brothers wind up in Julia's care for the holidays, she'll take any help she can get—even Jamie's.

Happy to step in, Jamie reveals a side of himself that's much harder to resist. Not only is he fantastic with kids, he provides the strength Julia needs to tackle her list. She knows their temporary family can't last beyond the holidays, but the closer she gets to Jamie, the more she wonders if things could be this merry and bright forever…

My Review:

It may only be September, but welcome to the first holiday book review of the year!

And we’re back in cozy Haven Point in this follow up to Serenity Harbor and my personal favorite in the series, Riverbend Road.

Sugar Pine Trail even ties up a bit of the story in Riverbend Road, right along with the series’ ongoing efforts to get all the Caine brothers of Caine Tech matched up with the women they’ve been waiting their whole lives for – even if they haven’t known it.

The hero this time around is Jamie Caine, the pilot. Jamie spends his days flying his brothers and the other executives of Caine Tech wherever and whenever they need to go. And his nights with a seemingly endless succession of beautiful but ultimately forgettable women who go in knowing that all they’ll get is a few good rides.

Jamie is a flirt and a charmer, and not in the least shy of using those charms to get whatever, or whoever he wants. While he’s not quite a player – he’s the closest thing that tiny Haven Point has ever seen.

Julia Winston, on that other hand, is the town librarian. And she seems to have bought into the stereotype just a bit too much, even though she’s only in her early 30s. Renting Jamie the upstairs apartment in her huge Victorian house is way outside her comfort zone – if only because Julia, along with more than a few women in town – has an unrequited crush on Jamie.

But Julia has also discovered within herself a desire to finally take charge of her own life, and to stop letting her fears hold her back from all the experiences that she once upon a time believed she wanted. Including an orgasm not brought about entirely by her own efforts.

Jamie’s not the only new male to enter her life. In an act of concern and charity, Julia follows home two little boys who seem to be living in the library – and who don’t seem to have an adult around. Once she discovers their true situation and brings social worker Wyn Emmett (the heroine of Riverbend Road) into the case, she learns that the only way that these two brothers can stay together for Christmas is if someone steps up and can foster them together while officials hunt for their missing.

To everyone’s surprise, including her own, Julia volunteers to step so far out of her comfort zone that there’s no looking back. She fosters them herself, knowing nothing about fostering and even less about take care of children.

Lucky for her, her new upstairs tenant comes to her rescue when she finds herself way, way over her head. Jamie not only takes the two boys under his wing, but manages to even charm her supercilious cats into purring under his hand.

And finds himself, in turn, charmed by the woman that Julia reveals as she opens her heart to the boys and lets her hair down, both metaphorically and physically with him. Once the starch is worn out of Julia, he discovers that the sweet, lovely and slightly flustered woman she is underneath is someone he can’t resist.

No matter how much he tells himself that he should.

Escape Rating B: I like Haven Point a lot. It’s a great place to visit, filled with lovely people that it is a joy to get to know.

On the one hand, the problem that pulls the lives of Julia and the two boys together is one that every library faces in some way, in both large and small places. At the end of the evening, it is not uncommon to discover one or two (or more) children who are too young to be left on their own but who don’t seem to have a responsible adult picking them up. Leaving them feels unsafe, but when it happens night after night, the staff who feel forced to stay overtime end up both worried and resentful. While calling the police seems heartless, it is often the only way to deal with the problem so that everyone, including the library staff, feel safe and protected.

Julia’s solution to this dilemma is unique, but the problem happens more often than people think, although usually not in such dire circumstances. As much as I applauded her in the book, at the same time, that she fostered the children herself made her feel like “not one of us” as did her continual harping on how she both fit and embraced the stereotype of librarian. As a group, we pretty much deride the stereotype whenever and wherever possible. It’s almost a game we play of complaining just how terrible and just plain wrong the old stereotype is.

Of course, readers who are not themselves librarians will not be bothered by this aspect. But I did want to shake her and drag her to a big library conference to see for herself.

The fears that held Julia back in so many ways, while they had nothing to do with being a librarian, felt all too real. She had created a shell around herself, for reasons that often made sense at the time. But her desire to break out of that shell and find out who she really wanted to be was well portrayed.

As a character, I liked Jamie and loved the way that he stepped in, stepped up and helped Julia figure out her sudden immersion in parenting. Not that he had any more experience as a parent, but he did have experience both as a sibling in a large family and in wrangling his nieces and nephews. As the only child of two only children, Julia’s life just hadn’t included much of those kinds of interactions. She needed his help, and as difficult as it was for her, accepting that help was necessary for her to grow up and to break out of that shell.

However, I’m not sure I really bought their romance. The relationship that Julia forged with the boys, and her heartbreak at the end, was sweet and crazy and just right. But I didn’t quite feel the chemistry between Julia and Jamie.

But I still had a great time visiting Haven Point for the holidays, and will be happy to make a return trip sometime soon. Maybe in the spring, when I won’t have to read about SNOW!

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

I am giving away a copy of Sugar Pine Trail to one lucky continental US winner

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Review: Wild Ride Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: Wild Ride Cowboy by Maisey Yates + GiveawayWild Ride Cowboy (Copper Ridge, #9) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Copper Ridge #9
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on August 29th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He's come back to Copper Ridge, Oregon, to keep a promise—even if it means losing his heart…

Putting down roots in Copper Ridge was never Alex Donnelly's intention. But if there's one thing the ex-military man knows, it's that life rarely unfolds as expected. If it did, his best friend and brother-in-arms would still be alive. And Alex wouldn't have inherited a ranch or responsibility for his late comrade's sister—a woman who, despite her inexperience, can bring tough-as-iron Alex to his knees.

Clara Campbell didn't ask for a hero to ride in and fix her ranch and her life. All she wants is the one thing stubborn, honorable Alex is reluctant to give: a chance to explore their intense chemistry. But Clara has a few lessons to teach him, too…about trusting his heart and his instincts, and letting love take him on the wildest adventure of all.

My Review:

It’s a wild but very satisfying ride to the angst factory in the latest book in Maisey Yates’ Copper Ridge series.

And there’s no one whose very angsty heroines I like better than the women in this series. The best books in this series, at least for this reader, have been Last Chance Rebel, Down Home Cowboy, and the latest, Wild Ride Cowboy, and they all feature heroines who have more than the average amount of really awful baggage to carry.

There’s just something about the way that this author creates heroines that have really, truly suffered, but still get up and keep on going, that just works for me. What I love is that the angst and heartbreak that these women suffer is not llama drama fodder, nor has some man done them wrong. It’s that life has hit them upside the head by stuff way beyond their control, and that while they may be temporarily down, they are never out.

And that the entry of a good man, or a bad man trying to be good, into their lives does not magically solve all their problems – because their problems, like Clara’s in this particular story, are not ones that can really be solved. Only survived.

Not that Alex Donnelly’s belated re-introduction into Clara’s life doesn’t make things a bit easier for her, because it does. But the real story is the way that Alex’ insertion into Clara’s life and Clara’s ranch gives her the space she needs to get a grip on her own stuff. And that Clara’s advent into Alex’s life gives him the equal opportunity to finally deal with the heavy baggage that he’s been toting around his own life.

These are two people to whom a lot of shit has just plain happened, and neither of them have done the best job of shoveling it out of the way. In their own ways, they’ve spent more time wallowing in it than mucking it out.

Considering that Clara ends up with bison on her ranch, there’s going to be plenty of real manure to step around, without trucking in it from both of their pasts.

Clara has basically had a hard-knock life. She was 12 when her mother died, 16 when her dad went the same way. Now she’s 21, and her brother, her only remaining family, has been killed in action. Clara is all alone with her ranch and her grief, and not much else. There’s been too much death and not enough life in her life, and the accumulated mourning has finally beaten her to her knees. She may look like she’s coping on the outside, but she’s sunk in the morass and just can’t see her way out.

The ranch is all she has, but every corner of it is filled with memories of someone she lost. On her own, it’s going to take her a long time to come out of the dark, but there’s never a sense that she won’t get there one way or another. The problem is that in her grief she’s ignoring a whole lot of things that won’t let themselves be ignored for very long – like the bills she has to pay and the lawyers she needs to see. And it’s not even that she can’t pay the bills, it’s that she’s unwilling to open the envelopes and deal with the finality of her brother’s death.

Alex Donnelly has been ignoring his grief and his responsibilities for far too long. Clara’s brother was Alex’s best friend, and the man is dead because he stepped in front of a hail of bullets that was intended to kill them both. Now Alex is left to mourn, and to take care of the obligation that his friend left him with.

Alex is the executor of his friend’s estate, and the will has made him the “caretaker” of both the ranch and Clara for one year or until the ranch is self-supporting. Alex is in charge of the one thing that Clara believed was all her own. After all, she’s the only person who has been around to take care of it. And even though keeping the ranch has taken up her entire life, it is all she has.

But Alex has put off helping Clara so that he can get as settled in as he ever does at the Laughing Irish ranch that he has inherited along with his three brothers. The opening of that story is a big part of Slow Burn Cowboy. Now that Alex is as settled in as he ever gets, it’s time for him to take care of Clara.

So that he can move on again. Because that’s what he always does. He moves on before someone asks him to leave. Because they always do.

When Alex finds himself making a home with Clara, and wanting to make a real life with her, he doesn’t want to leave. But he knows it can’t last.

Or can it?

Escape Rating B+: Like the heroine in the marvelous Last Chance Rebel, Clara is a woman who has much too much real crap to deal with. She’s only 21, and everyone she’s ever loved has died. When we meet her she is still in the depths of her grief for her brother. She’s not despairing, she’s just beyond numb. It makes the earliest part of the book a hard read, because Clara is in such a dark place.

Alex becomes her light in the tunnel. But there’s an old joke about when you see a light in the tunnel, there’s a good chance that it’s an oncoming train. And that’s what Alex thinks of himself. His foundational experience is that he isn’t good enough for anyone to stay with, including, or perhaps especially, his own parents.

He’s certain that he’s not good enough for Clara, that he’s not worthy of her love or her trust. And he spends a whole lot of time being insulting about Clara’s age and agency, pretending that at 21 she’s not old enough to know her own mind and heart, and that at 31 he’s too old and too damaged for her.

Mostly, he’s just protecting himself. And Clara, rightfully, calls him on his bullshit. Because Alex is both stubborn and scared, there’s plenty of b.s. and she has to call him on it multiple times. It’s easy to wonder if he’s ever going to get the message, or whether she’s going to have to beat it into him with a clue-by-four.

The delivery of said clue-by-four in the hands of Alex’s equally dysfunctional brother Liam, makes for a satisfying ending to Wild Ride Cowboy, and sets things up nicely for Liam’s own story in Christmastime Cowboy. It looks like presents for everyone!

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

Harlequin is offering one (1) lucky winner a $25 Amazon Gift Card! To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below:

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