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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Review: Down Home Cowboy by Maisey Yates + End of Summer Tour + Giveaway

Review: Down Home Cowboy by Maisey Yates + End of Summer Tour + GiveawayDown Home Cowboy (Copper Ridge, #8) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Copper Ridge #8
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This Texas cowboy has come home to Copper Ridge to put down roots…but will he risk his heart again?
Asked where he'd be at this point in life, Cain Donnelly would have said anywhere but Copper Ridge, Oregon, living with his estranged brothers. But since his wife abandoned them, both he and his daughter, Violet, are in need of a fresh start, so he's back to claim his share of the family ranch. Local baker Alison Davis is a delicious temptation, but she's also his daughter's mentor and new boss. That makes her off-limits…until she offers a no-strings deal that no red-blooded cowboy could resist.
Alison has worked tirelessly to rebuild her life, and she won't jeopardize her hard-won independence. Especially if it also complicates Cain's relationship with Violet. But with Cain offering a love she never thought was possible, Alison has to find the courage to let her past go…or watch her future ride away for good.

My Review:

Maisey Yates’ Copper Ridge series has been a bit of a mixed bag for me. I adored Last Chance Rebel, but let’s just say that I did not feel much love for Slow Burn Cowboy. On my other hand, my Guest Reviewer Amy clearly enjoyed Hold Me, Cowboy. So we were two out of three coming into Down Home Cowboy.

And we have another winner.

Neither Cain Donnelly nor Alison Davis are looking for a relationship. But they are both looking for sex. Four years is a long dry spell for anyone in their early-to-middle 30s, even coming out of their completely different but equally bad relationships.

Maybe not quite equally bad. Alison was abused by her ex-husband for eight years, and her four years post-divorce have been a journey of self-discovery and self-fulfillment. But her baggage is huge and painful, and she’s just reached the point where she is willing to dip her toe back into the waters of sex. But she is unwilling to cede an inch of her hard-won independence to any man for any reason. And it’s impossible to blame her.

Cain’s ex-wife left him four years ago, running off and leaving him with sole custody of their daughter Violet. Dealing with the fallout from that disaster, along with being a single father, has left Cain with little time, energy or inclination to get involved with anyone, until he meets Alison.

But they definitely start out on the same page. They both want sex, but neither of them is interested in the complication of a relationship. Things are already complicated enough – Alison is Violet’s boss at her bakery, and it seems like working for Alison is the first thing that Violet has even half enjoyed since Cain uprooted them from Texas and moved in with his half-brothers in the ranch they all inherited from their grandfather.

(The details of that particular SNAFU are in Slow Burn Cowboy. And while the romance in that book was a bit of a disappointment, the messy drama of the Donnelly boys making themselves into a functionally dysfunctional family was a load of fun. I’m happy to see more of them! Possibly not quite as happy as Alison is to see ALL of Cain, but that’s part of what makes Down Home Cowboy work.)

The problem that Cain and Alison have is that it is difficult to make love without feeling at least a little love (Which was also one of Finn’s issues in Slow Burn Cowboy. This may be a trend.) And no matter what fibs they told themselves about what they were expecting from their liaison, it’s pretty clear from the beginning that they are, quite definitely, making love and not just getting their ashes hauled. Not that they aren’t doing that, quite well, too.

But when Cain challenges Alison to admit that they both feel more for each other than they planned on, Alison lets her past fears ruin her present hopes. Unless she can finally drop the baggage that’s weighing her down for good.

Escape Rating B+: This one was fun. And it was way, way, way more fun than Slow Burn Cowboy, without quite rising to the level of angsty goodness that was Last Chance Rebel.

This is a story where everyone has baggage, and everyone needs to drop it. Or learn to carry it. Or both. And it’s a story where everyone is afraid, and with good reason.
Both Violet and Cain fear abandonment. His father abandoned him, his mother was an alcoholic, and her mother abandoned both her and Cain. Those fears are all real. Alison is afraid of losing herself again, the way she did in her abusive marriage. She’s not certain her new found strength and independence is strong enough to let her love someone without letting them take her over, even though she knows that her ex’s need to take her over and grind her down had way more to do with him than with her. That she let it happen haunts her to the point of preventing her from moving all the way forward, and we understand why.

Watching them all overcome the worst of what’s holding them back and learning to cope with the rest in a healthy and not destructive fashion is what makes this story work. At least, that’s what made the story work for this reader, and I hope for lots of others.

If this review, or any of the reviews, guest posts and spotlights in this End of Summer Blog Tour tickle your reading fancy, you can download a sampler of all the opening chapters from Harlequin.

The End of Summer – Guest Post by Maisey Yates

I love Summer. When it’s not burning hot (which is when I end up hiding in the AC) it takes me right back to being a kid. Our schedule is relaxed, the days are long, the evenings cool and blue, and the mornings…perfect for laying in bed just a little bit longer.

But days like that can all blur together, and then Summer can end up flying by before you know it.

I find that changes in scenery help a little bit with that. We live in Oregon, and it’s an amazing state with totally diverse landscapes that make for some amazing road trips. Or even just glorious back yard hangouts.

We’ve spent our share of time out on the lake paddle boarding this year, and hiking on the trails behind the historic town we live close to, making the most of what we have nearby.

In early July, we took our kids way up in the mountains and lay in the back of the pickup truck and looked at the stars. It makes a huge difference when you can escape the light pollution. We could see the Milky Way and (for the most part) the kids even got along.

Then we went on a big road trip to the eastern part of the state, where we got to enjoy the high desert.

We’re used to a lot of green in the state. I’ve lived in Oregon all my life, and I don’t think I had an adequate appreciation for just how unique the Eastern part of the state is. The red mountains and volcanic rock are a pretty sharp contrast to the evergreen mountains that surround our house.

From there we continued up to Portland, Oregon, which is our major city. (You might know it from the TV show Portlandia. I can’t dispute the accuracy of that show. At all.)

We got to enjoy the museum of science, and Oregon Zoo and some other more urban things that we don’t get a chance to take in very often seeing as we live very, very not urban.

So far this summer we haven’t had the chance to make it over to the coast, which is my other favorite Oregon locale. My husband and I honeymooned in Bandon, Oregon twelve years ago, and it has a special place in my heart. Which, if you’ve read my books your can probably tell, since Bandon served as major inspiration for my Copper Ridge series!

Getting out and enjoying Oregon is one of my favorite summer pastimes. And staying in writing love letters to Oregon in my Copper Ridge books is my favorite thing to do all year long.

I love to write books set everywhere, and I love to travel all over, but Oregon is my home, and that’s where my heart is — when it comes to life and fiction.

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

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Review: Branded as Trouble by Delores Fossen + Giveaway

Review: Branded as Trouble by Delores Fossen + GiveawayBranded as Trouble (Wrangler's Creek, #3) by Delores Fossen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Wrangler's Creek #3
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Every town needs a bad boy, and Wrangler's Creek's has been gone far too long
Getting his high school girlfriend pregnant was just one square in Roman Granger's checkered past, but it changed him forever. When his son's mother skipped town after the birth, Roman decided to do the same, baby Tate in tow, hoping for a fresh start.
Now Roman fears his teenage son is following in his wayward footsteps, so he returns home to Wrangler's Creek, aiming to set him straight. It's there he encounters Tate's aunt, Mila Banchini, the good-girl opposite of Roman who's had a crush on him since childhood. The old spark between them undeniably never died, though Roman worries it'll only lead to heartache. But if falling for Mila is such a bad idea, why does everything about holding her feel so right?
"

My Review:

This book, and this entire series, feels like a “train wreck” read for me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – after all, the reason why gazer block is such a problem after a highway accident is that we can’t turn our eyes away from the disaster.

And so it is for me with the Wrangler’s Creek series. The entire thing is so overrun with stampeding drama llamas, in so many coats and stripes and colors, that even as it drives me absolutely bananas I can’t turn my eyes away. I have to keep going to see what other brand of crazy happens next.

Branded as Trouble is plenty crazy, and plenty entertaining.

This series has been the story of the Granger siblings of Wrangler’s Creek. Or rather, the story of the Granger siblings coming back to Wrangler’s Creek. In Those Texas Nights, sister Sophie comes home to stay. No Getting Over a Cowboy was her brother Garrett’s story, and now it’s bad-boy older brother Roman’s chance to find his own happy. If only he can only get out of his own way.

(I have mixed feelings about whether one needs to read the series from the beginning to “get” what’s going on. I think not. The siblings obviously appear in each other’s stories, as do many of the background characters. But the individual books stand mostly alone.)

Roman doesn’t want to come back to Wrangler’s Creek. He doesn’t want to live anywhere near his mother Belle, and while I can’t blame him, it was good to find out the cause of all the bad blood between them. And there was plenty of cause, and knowing what it was makes a whole lot of their past and present interactions make a lot more sense.

It’s also clear that Roman needs to get past a lot of the bad stuff in his past, not because it wasn’t bad, not because his feelings aren’t justified, but because hanging on to all that old baggage is hurting him more than the people he throws it at – and it’s really hurting his teenage son Tate, who needs Roman to get his head out of his own ass and do what’s best for both of them.

Not that Tate doesn’t have plenty of growing up of his own to do. And his own share of baggage to lose.

Mila is there for both of them. She’s loved Roman since forever, but is all too aware that the feeling is not returned. And she’s mostly made her peace with that. Until Roman comes back to Wrangler’s Creek for the summer, and they find themselves thrown together over and over. Tate needs their help. And they need each other.

Escape Rating B: A great writer, probably several of them, have said that one of the differences between fiction and nonfiction is that fiction has to be plausible, while nonfiction merely has to be true. Branded as Trouble may be the point where the Wrangler’s Creek series fell over the line between crazy-fun and too crazy to be plausible. At least for me. Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t still have a good time, but the amount of eye-rolling I did as I read it was starting to hurt!

I have never liked the character of Belle, Roman’s mother. She’s slightly less offensive in Branded as Trouble, but no less crazy. And she’s not crazy in a fun way, she’s crazy in an annoying and overbearing way. (If no one has guessed, yes, some of her characteristics remind me a bit too much of my own mother. It just doesn’t make a comfortable read for me. Your mileage on this probably does vary).

Mila’s mother Vita is just plain nuts. She’s out there, marching to the beat of her own drummer – and it’s probably some kind of spirit drummer, because Vita seems like a caricature of a practicing witch. Or she’s listening to the voices in her head, or a bit of both. Surprisingly, Vita’s wacky pronouncements do usually make sense in the end, but her method of getting there makes her, as her daughter Mila describes her, into the “ultimate person repellant”, no one wants to get near her. Being Vita’s daughter in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business must have been absolutely hell.

Where things past plausibility for this reader was in both the hero and the heroine have mothers who are way out there in different left fields of cray-cray land. This did pass “over-the-top” for me. Which does not mean that I didn’t like both Roman and Mila, because I certainly did.

Mila owns the local bookstore, which of course makes her my heroine. But the other thing I really like about her character is the way that she makes her own happy. She’s always loved Roman, but has no expectations that it will ever work out. That she’s come to the realization that she has to move on because he won’t make a move on her makes her brave, even if some of her efforts involve more drama llamas than the possibility of actual romance.

But she’s not pining. She keeps moving forward. And that’s what eventually makes her dreams come true.

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

I am giving away a copy of Branded as Trouble to one lucky US/Canadian commenter:

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Review: Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery

Review: Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan MallerySecrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Harlequin Books on July 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The relationship of sisters Kelly and Olivia Van Gilder has been, well… complicated ever since their mother left them as teens, though it's the secrets they have been keeping from each other as adults that have unwittingly widened the chasm. But one thing they do share is the not-so-secret torch they carry for the Martin brothers.
In the small enclave of New Holland, Washington, Griffith and Ryan Martin were demigods. While Griffith was the object of Kelly's high school crush and witness to her mortal teenage humiliation, Ryan was for Olivia the boy who got away-something she's never forgiven Kelly for-and the only person since her mother who appreciated her wild streak.
Now, ten years later, both brothers are newly returned to town. Believing they're destined to be together, Olivia's determined to get Ryan back, until she discovers that she's not the only one keeping secrets…and that perhaps he's not the handsome prince she remembered. And even though Griffith has grown up to be more irresistible than ever, Kelly's impulse is to avoid him and the painful memory he represents, despite his resolve to right the wrong he caused her long ago-and her desire to let him.

My Review:

I want to say that the Murphy family puts the fun back in dysfunctional – but too many of the relationships within this family are all dysfunction and damn little fun. Of course, those dysfunctions add to the drama of the story – and there is plenty of fun outside these very messy family dynamics.

This is a story about three women, Kelly Murphy, her sister Olivia, and her best friend Helen, in their little small town of Tulpen Crossing, Washington. Tulpen Crossing is a lot closer to Spokane than Seattle, on the eastern side of the Cascades – a location that matters a lot in Washington state. Tulpen Crossing, and nearly everything in town, is named for it’s annual tulip crop, the economic engine of the entire town.

The Murphy family have been growing tulips in Tulpen for generations. Kelly Murphy and her dad Jeff are continuing the family tradition. They also still share the Murphy family house, in spite of Kelly being well-past the age where most young adults fly out of the family nest – Kelly is 28. And seems to not think that love and marriage are for her. She watched her parents’ marriage implode, explode and every other ‘plode when she was in her early teens, and wants to stay as far away from that kind of mess as possible.

Until it comes looking for her.

Griffin Burnett is the prodigal son – he returned to Tulpen Crossing to set up his very successful Tiny House business. He’s had his eye on Kelly for a long time. He likes her no-nonsense no-games attitude, and he thinks her no-fuss, no muss style is beautiful, as is she. But he’s not interested in love and marriage either, just a long-term relationship of friendship, respect and, of course, benefits.

Kelly, whose self-esteem issues know very few bounds, thinks he’s nuts. But she’s willing to try.

And that’s where all the dysfunction in the Murphy family comes home to roost – and to stir up trouble. First Olivia comes back, after over a decade of absence. She got sent to boarding school when she was 15, not long after their mother abandoned the family – after seducing every single post-pubescent male for about 100 miles around Tulpen Crossing – and being far from discreet about it.

Just as Olivia and Kelly begin to rebuild their very strained sibling relationship, Marilee returns to Tulpen Crossing in Olivia’s wake, not because she’s missed either of her daughters, but because she wants to stir up as much trouble as possible.

She nearly succeeds beyond even her wildest expectations.

Escape Rating B+: As much as I hate the label, Secrets of the Tulip Sisters falls squarely into that category so awfully named “women’s fiction”. While there are not just one but three romances in this story, it’s really about the relationships between Kelly, Olivia and Helen, how they support each other and sometimes how they sabotage each other, and their relationships with the town and the way that all of them step forward, sometimes hesitantly and sometimes boldly, into their own futures.

One of the themes of the story is about the keeping of secrets. Olivia arrives in Tulpen Crossing with a huge secret. Every time she and Kelly begin to get their relationship back on track, a piece of that secret gets let out of its bag and derails their relationship. That the derailment is intended makes it all that much more heartbreaking.

Kelly also has plenty of secrets. A whole lot of it is self-blame – she has persisted in the belief that it is all her fault that her mother left, and even more damning, all her fault that Olivia was sent to boarding school. She was 15 when she and her mother had the supposedly fateful argument, and 18 when she convinced her father to send Olivia to boarding school. As much as she needs to tell Olivia about her part in some of the worst parts of Olivia’s life – Kelly was not the adult in either situation. Her mother was always going to leave – and it was her father’s choice to send Olivia to boarding school. It helps a lot that, in retrospect, Olivia realizes that Kelly was probably right, no matter how selfish her motivations seemed at the time.

And then there’s Helen. She too, has a secret that impacts the Murphy family. Helen, who is a few years older than her best friend Kelly, owns the local diner. And she’s been in love with Kelly’s dad for years. Jeff Murphy is clueless about Helen’s feelings, but well aware of his own – and can’t imagine that Helen, 16 years his junior, could possibly be interested in him.

Of course he’s wrong. He’s wrong about a whole lot of things, as we discover when Marilee breezes back into Tulpen Crossing to screw with everyone’s heads and screw up everyone’s life. She’s irredeemable. But everyone else, learning to cope with the crises she leaves in her wake, finally rise to the challenge to find their happy and boot her out of their lives, and especially out of the headspace she’s taken from all of them over the years.

At the end, everybody stands taller and stronger. And it’s wonderful.

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Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen by Victoria Alexander

Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen by Victoria AlexanderThe Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen (The Lady Travelers Guide, #1) by Victoria Alexander
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Lady Travelers Guide #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on May 23rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Embark on the breathtaking romantic adventures of The Lady Travelers Society in the brand-new series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander
Really, it's too much to expect any normal man to behave like a staid accountant in order to inherit the fortune he deserves to support the lifestyle of an earl. So when Derek Saunders's favorite elderly aunt and her ill-conceived—and possibly fraudulent—Lady Travelers Society loses one of their members, what's a man to do but step up to the challenge? Now he's escorting the world's most maddening woman to the world's most romantic city to find her missing relative.
While India Prendergast only suspects his organization defrauds gullible travelers, she's certain a man with as scandalous a reputation as Derek Saunders cannot be trusted any farther than the distance around his very broad shoulders. As she struggles not to be distracted by his wicked smile and the allure of Paris, instead of finding a lost lady traveler, India just may lose her head, her luggage and her heart.

My Review:

This is my second book in a row where one of the main characters begins the story desperately requiring the surgical removal of a seemingly permanent stick shoved up their fundament. As in today’s story that’s the heroine rather than the hero, I’m being a bit more delicate in my language referring to the deformity.

India Prendergast is more than a bit of a prig. I’d say that she is a “stick in the mud” but as has been previously established, the stick has already been firmly lodged elsewhere. In today’s terms, we’d say that she needs to lighten up more than a bit.

She is also both extremely judgmental and an unbearable know-it-all, and not in the useful way that Hermione Granger was a know-it-all. Miss Prendergast’s version of omniscience is that she has made rather firm decisions on exactly how the world works, according to her designs, and that she is always right in all of her judgements. Which are very exacting.

She’s great at managing things and people, but not very lovable. Or even likeable. And she’s certainly not terribly forgiving. Or much fun.

And she’s not quite 30.

In the case that begins the story, she is both right and wrong, but not, as she discovers at the end, in any of the ways she expects.

Her cousin Heloise, the woman who raised her after her parents death, has gone missing. Or so it seems. Heloise, a middle-aged spinster with a small but secure income, has become a member of The Lady Travelers Society, and after consulting with the Society, has planned a solo (well, solo with her lady’s maid) European tour of indeterminate length and rather sketchy itinerary.

As the story begins, India has not heard from Heloise in over six weeks, and her inquiries to the Lady Travelers Society, increasingly frantic and belligerent, have gone unanswered. As the police have been thoroughly dismissive and unhelpful, India is taking matters into her own hands.

She has investigated the Lady Travelers Society and has discovered that there is a fraud afoot. In her decided opinion, the three elderly ladies who appear to be running the Society, using the term “running” very, very loosely, are covering a scam. They seem much too dithery to be the masterminds of such a pernicious scheme to separate women of limited means from both their pounds sterling and their dreams of travel.

India is certain she has discovered that mastermind in Derek Saunders. Mr. Saunders, on the other hand, has just discovered that his great aunt and her two friends are, in fact, perpetuating a fraud in order to maintain their independence as widows. He’s there to put a stop to what India believes he is the mastermind of.

But they both need to find cousin Heloise, both for India’s peace of mind and for Derek to keep his great aunt and her cronies out of jail, or at least free from scandal.

India’s distrustful nature won’t allow her to let Derek search for her wayward cousin, as she believes Heloise’s waywardness is ultimately his fault. And he can’t let India go off investigating on her own in Paris, because if anything happens to her, society will certainly hold him responsible, even if he was not responsible for the original scheme that got them all into this mess.

And his great aunt and her cronies are very definitely matchmaking. Not that India and Derek don’t need their guiding, if slightly guilty, hands.

It’s up to them to not screw up their best chance at happiness. Their escapades prove that they both need all the help that they can get.

Escape Rating B: This story is solidly good fun, but the portrayal of the heroine in the first half of the story does make the reader want to shake her. India at the outset, while extremely effective, is also intensely annoying. Her self-righteousness sets the reader’s teeth on edge, as it does that of nearly every character she meets in the story.

On that other hand, one of the terrific things about this story is the heroine’s journey. The hero has already gotten most of the way to where he needs to be, courtesy of a swift kick to the posterior delivered by his uncle several months before the story begins. Derek, while he has not lost his sense of fun and adventure, has grown up after being threatened with being cut off from his inheritance. And it’s been the making of him.

Meanwhile, none of India’s acquaintances nor her (very) few friends have been willing to risk her judgemental nature long enough to tell her that she generally goes well beyond holding up standards into outright rudeness. She never gives anyone the benefit of the doubt, and makes no allowances for any human frailty on anyone’s part, including her own. Because of course she believes she has none.

And that’s where the story really lies. India doesn’t so much need to grow up as to just grow. Or the wooden puppet needs to become a real girl. Not necessarily in the sense of enjoying fashion or shopping or any of the things that women were supposed to enjoy in the late Victorian era, although she does come to that, but grow in the sense of accepting others. She can be kind without being judge-y, if she can finally admit that no one, including herself, is right all the damn time.

The setting of this story is marvelous. It is Paris in 1889, at the beginning of the 1889 World’s Fair. Some of the best and most evocative scenes in the story take place at the top of the newly opened and still quite controversial Eiffel Tower.

All in all, this is a lovely story of wheels within wheels, featuring an intelligent (if bull-headed) heroine and set in a marvelous place and time. And there will be more! The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger is coming in November.

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Sneak Peek at Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Sneak Peek at Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery + GiveawaySecrets of the Tulip Sisters: A Captivating Story about Sisters, Secrets and Second Chances by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Pages: 416
Published by Harlequin Books on July 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A wonderful story full of romance, forgiveness and the unavoidable ties that bind, SECRETS OF THE TULIP SISTERS is Susan Mallery at her very best.
The relationship of sisters Kelly and Olivia Van Gilder has been, well… complicated ever since their mother left them as teens, though it's the secrets they have been keeping from each other as adults that have unwittingly widened the chasm. But one thing they do share is the not-so-secret torch they carry for the Martin brothers.
In the small enclave of New Holland, Washington, Griffith and Ryan Martin were demigods. While Griffith was the object of Kelly's high school crush and witness to her mortal teenage humiliation, Ryan was for Olivia the boy who got away-something she's never forgiven Kelly for-and the only person since her mother who appreciated her wild streak.
Now, ten years later, both brothers are newly returned to town. Believing they're destined to be together, Olivia's determined to get Ryan back, until she discovers that she's not the only one keeping secrets…and that perhaps he's not the handsome prince she remembered. And even though Griffith has grown up to be more irresistible than ever, Kelly's impulse is to avoid him and the painful memory he represents, despite his resolve to right the wrong he caused her long ago-and her desire to let him.

Welcome to the  Virtual Pre-Order Tour for Susan Mallery’s upcoming book, Secrets of the Tulip Sisters. I loved her Daughters of the Bride last year, so I was thrilled when not one but two tours were available for Sisters of the Tulip Sisters. This pre-order tour includes an exclusive excerpt, and just in time for Mother’s Day, the opportunity for one lucky U.S. entrant to win a beautifult bouquet, of tulips of course, to be delivered to your own home or to a person of your choosing as a very special gift.

There is also a review tour for Secrets of the Tulip Sisters coming in July. Based on this teaser chapter, I can’t wait to read this book!

Chapter Three

Leo Meierotto, the forty-something site supervisor, stuck his head in Griffith’s office. “Boss, you’ve got company.” Leo’s normally serious expression changed to one of amusement. “Kelly Murphy is here.”

Because Leo was local and in a town the size of Tulpen Crossing, everyone knew everyone.

“Thanks.”

“Think she wants to buy a tiny home?”

Considering she lived in a house her family had owned for five generations, “Doubtful.”

He had a feeling she was here to tell him to back off. Maybe she’d shown up to serve him with a restraining order. Or did that have to be delivered by someone official? He wasn’t sure. Avoiding interactions that required him to get on the wrong side of law enforcement had always been a goal.

He told himself whatever happened, he would deal, then walked out into the showroom of the larger warehouse. Kelly stood by a cross section of a display tiny home, studying the layout.

He took a second to enjoy looking at her. She was about five-five, fit with narrow hips and straight shoulders. A farmer by birth and profession, Kelly dressed for her job. Jeans, work boots and a long sleeved T-shirt. It might be early June, but in the Pacific Northwest, that frequently meant showers. Today was gray with an expected high of sixty-five. Not exactly beach weather.

Kelly’s wavy hair fell just past her shoulders. She wore it pulled back in a simple ponytail. She didn’t wear makeup or bother with a manicure. She was completely no-frills. He supposed that was one of the things he liked about her. There wasn’t any artifice. No pretense. With Kelly you wouldn’t find out that she was one thing on the surface and something completely different underneath. At least that was what he hoped.

“Hey, Kelly.”

She turned. He saw something flash through her eyes. Discomfort? Nerves? Determination? Was she here to tell him to back off? He couldn’t blame her. He’d been too enthused about his plan when he should have been more subtle. She was going to tell him to leave her alone.

Not willing to lose without a fight, he decided he needed a distraction and how convenient they were standing right next to one.

“You’ve never been to my office before,” he went on. “Why is that?”

“I don’t know. You’ve been back about a year. I guess I should have been by.” She turned toward the tiny homes. “You build these?”

“I do. Have you seen one before?”

“Only on TV.”

He grinned. “Gotta love the free advertising.” He gestured to the model next to the cross section. “Micro housing is defined as being less than five hundred square feet. They serve different purposes for different people. In sub-Saharan Africa, micro housing provides sturdy, relatively inexpensive shelter that can be tailored to the needs of the community.” He pointed to the roof. “For example, we can install solar panels, giving the owners access to electricity. In urban settings, modified homes can be an alternative to expensive apartments. They can also offer shelter to the homeless. For everyone else, they fill a need. You can get a single-story house for an in-law or a guest cottage with a loft. You can take it on the road, even live off the grid, if you want.”

She studied him intently as he spoke, as if absorbing every word. “I like living on the grid, but that’s just me.”

“I’m with you on that. Creature comforts are good. Come on. I’ll show you where we build them.”

He led her around the divider and into the back of the warehouse where the actual construction was done. Nearly half a dozen guys swarmed over the homes. Griffith saw that Ryan was leaning against a workbench, talking rather than working. No surprise there. He ignored the surge of frustration and turned his attention to Kelly.

“Clients can pick from plans we have on hand or create their own. If it’s the latter, I work with them to make sure the structure will be sound. A house that’s going to stay in one place has different requirements from one that will be towed.”

She nodded slowly. “You’d have to make sure it was balanced on the trailer. Plus it can’t be too high. Bridges and overpasses would be a problem. Maybe weight, as well.”

“Exactly. A lot of people think they want a tiny home but when they actually see what it looks like, they’re surprised at the size.”

“Or lack of size?” She smiled. “I can’t imagine living in five hundred square feet.”

“Or less. It takes compromise and creative thinking.”

“Plus not a lot of stuff.”

They walked back to the show area. She went through a completed tiny house waiting to be picked up.

“I can’t believe you fit in a washer-dryer unit,” she called from inside.

“Clothes get dirty.”

“But still. It’s a washer-dryer.” She stepped back into the showroom. “It’s nice that you have this setup for your clients. They get to see rather than just imagine.”

He nodded as he looked around. There were photos of completed projects on the wall, along with the cross section. He had a small selection of samples for roofing, siding and hard surfaces. All the basics.

“What?” she asked.

“It’s okay,” he admitted. “I want to make it better, but I don’t know how to do the finishing touches.” He could design the hell out of three hundred square feet, but when it came to things like paint and throw pillows, he was as lost as the average guy in a housewares department.

“I wish I could help, but I can’t.” She flashed him a smile. “I’m totally hopeless at that kind of thing, too. Now if you want to know the Pantone color of the year, that I can do.”

“The what?”

“The color of the year. Every year the design world picks colors that are expected to be popular. You know, for clothes and decorating.”

“Why would you know that?”

“Um, Griffith, I grow tulips for a living. If I don’t get the colors right, nobody wants them at their wedding or on their coffee tables.”

“Oh, right. I didn’t think of that.” He frowned. “Don’t you have to order bulbs before you plant them? What if you get the colors wrong?”

“Then I’m screwed and we lose the farm. Which is why I pay attention to things like the Pantone colors of the year. It’s not so much that people won’t buy yellow tulips regardless of what’s popular, it’s that I’ll lose sales by not having the right colors available when my customers want them. I like being their go-to vendor when they need something.”

He’d known she cared about her business, but he hadn’t thought of her as competitive. Better and better.

“Do you focus on having the right colors in the field flowers as well as those you grow indoors?”

She studied him for a second, as if surprised by the question.

“They’re different,” she admitted. “What we have for the annual tulip festival are more focused on popular colors as well as types of tulips. I use the greenhouses for wedding seasons as well as for the more exotics. It’s easier to control the process when you don’t have to deal with Mother Nature.”

“I hear she can be a real bitch.”

Kelly laughed. “If there’s a spring hailstorm, I won’t disagree. Ten minutes of hail can ruin an entire crop.”

He winced. “That sucks.”

“Tell me about it.”

They smiled at each other. He had a feeling she’d forgotten about why she’d come to see him, which was how he wanted things.

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

Susan is giving away a beatiful bouquet of tulips to one lucky entrant at each stop on this tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Slow Burn Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: Slow Burn Cowboy by Maisey Yates + GiveawaySlow Burn Cowboy (Copper Ridge, #7) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Copper Ridge #7
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on April 18th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Copper Ridge, Oregon, a cowboy's best friend might turn out to be the woman of his dreams…
If Finn Donnelly makes a plan, he sticks to it. After his brothers left Copper Ridge, Finn stayed behind, determined to keep their ranch going by himself. And when he realized his feelings for Lane Jensen were more than platonic, he shoved that inconvenient desire away. It was easy…until it wasn't. Suddenly his brothers are coming home to claim their share of the property. And Lane is no longer just in his fantasies. She's in his arms, and their friendship is on the line…
He's been her buddy, her handyman, her rock. But until that one breathtaking kiss, Lane somehow overlooked the most important thing about Finn Donnelly—he's all man. They're right together, no matter how much his volatile past has bruised him. Finn wants to hold Lane's body, but he doesn't want to hold her heart. But Lane is falling fast and now she's got a plan of her own…to show Finn there's nothing hotter than friendship turned to slow-burning love.

My Review:

I loved Last Chance Rebel, and my friend Amy loved Hold Me Cowboy, so I expected to love Slow Burn Cowboy. But that’s not what happened.

Instead I have very much of a mixed feelings review on tap. Very mixed.

The friends-to-lovers trope is one of my favorites, so again, I was expecting to like the story line in this book. But something, actually multiple somethings, don’t quite work.

The set up is excellent, Lane and Finn have been best friends for ten years, ever since Lane left her parents’ home back East and moved to Copper Ridge to live with her brother Matt. At the time, Lane was sixteen and obviously just a bit fragile. Finn was 23 or 24 and more than a bit too old for her.

But that 8 or 9 year gap closes pretty quickly after a few years. Now Lane is in her late 20s and Finn is in his mid-30s. They’re both adults. But they are both still awfully fragile.

They are best friends. Really, truly. They spend time together and they care for each other and they need each other. But they are filling the gaps in each other’s lives that would normally be filled by a spouse or significant other. Not that their relationship isn’t significant, but they have fallen into a situation where they are friends with a different set of benefits. She cooks and buys his clothes, he kills spiders, changes lightbulbs and fixes the porch steps. It works for them.

Until it doesn’t.

Finn’s grandfather has just died. Instead of leaving his ranch to Finn, who has been working with him for that same last bunch of years, the old man left it to Finn and his three half-brothers equally. The Donnelly Brothers are all at crossroads in their lives, and they all move back to the ranch, into the house and the land that Finn expected would be his.

All of their relationships are strained and distant, and no one seems to be happy about any of it. So Finn, in a crazed need to re-establish control over something, anything, in his suddenly chaotic life, decides that he wants more from Lane than he’s ever asked for. He wants to push past their carefully maintained boundaries and turn their relationship into that of friends with the usual benefits.

He thinks its possible to make love and not feel at least a little love. And he’s an idiot.

Finn’s perfectly happy to tear down all of Lane’s defenses and push for whatever he wants. But when Lane turns the tables on him and starts pushing him for what she wants out of a relationship, he pushes her away as hard and as fast as he can.

The question of whether Finn can get his head out of his ass long enough to figure himself out is an open one. Finn needs to open his eyes, and his heart, before he throws away his best chance at happiness. And he needs to grovel.

Escape Rating C+: There was so much potential in Slow Burn Cowboy, but it never quite gels into the book that I was looking forward to.

Both Lane and Finn are damaged people, and neither of them thinks that they are worthy of happiness or love. They protect themselves in different ways. Lane by walling off what hurts her, and Finn by pushing away anyone who might get close enough to hurt him.

It’s amazing that they have managed to sustain a friendship, but they definitely have.

While Finn is a bit of an arsehole about it, his trauma is understandable. His dad seems to have been a serial philanderer, leaving a string of exes with his sons all across the country. Dad left everyone. But his mom also abandoned him. And he’s just sure everyone else will too.

Lane’s trauma just isn’t one that was easy for this reader to identify with. Her sense of loss at giving a baby up for adoption when she was sixteen is understandable, but she’s been wearing the past like a hair shirt ever since, to the point where the hair felt like it had been woven from a drama llama rather than anything real. Her story felt like angst for angst’s sake.

Also, these are two people who live inside their heads an awful lot, which also doesn’t feel right for Finn’s character. It felt like there was much more internal dialog than actual dialog. And Lane tended to think and talk in circles a lot of the time. That’s a habit that drives this reader crazy in real life, not just fictional life.

There are a lot of moments when the reader wants them to just stop talking inside their heads and let those words out where they might do some good!

But, and this is where the good stuff comes in, Copper Ridge just feels like a wonderful place. I like the people a lot. One of the great things in this story is all about the enduring power of women’s friendships. Lane, along with her best female friends, have a terrific, supportive and caring friendship. One of the ways in which Lane comes out of this story stronger than she went in is the realization that she is so much better off than she was when she arrived in Copper Ridge because those friendships will always see her through. She’s not alone, with or without Finn.

Finn’s supporting cast is his family, his three half-brothers and his niece Violet. They have all moved into the ranch and are now part of his life, where they have all been separate and alone up til now. Finn is really, really bad at letting people in, but having them be part of his life, whether he originally wanted it or not, is terrific. They bite and snap and growl at each other all the time, but they are all great characters and I’m looking forward to their stories in future books in the series.

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

Maisey and Harlequin are giving away a $25 Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Rescue by Diana Palmer

Review: The Rescue by Diana PalmerThe Rescue (The Morcai Battalion #4) by Diana Palmer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardvoer, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Morcai Battalion #4
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


New York Times
bestselling author Diana Palmer returns with the next edge-of-your-seat installment of The Morcai Battalion series.
Rhemun, commander of the Cehn-Tahr Holconcom, has worked tirelessly to get where he is and he's not going to let any human drag him back down. Especially not Lt. Commander Edris Mallory, whose very presence aboard the Morcai serves as a too-painful reminder of a past tragedy he can neither forgive nor forget.
But Mallory has secrets of her own, ones she can't afford to see come to light. Frantic to protect herself, she flees, abandoning her position. When Rhemun learns of her devastating situation, he realizes the all-consuming feelings he's harbored for her may not be hatred. But in a vast universe rife with peril, is it already too late?

My Review:

I read the first book in this series, The Morcai Battalion, back in 2007 when the expanded edition was republished by Harlequin Luna. At that time, there wasn’t a lot of outright science fiction romance being published, and The Morcai Battalion filled a need I don’t even think I knew I had.

(Luna was a terrific imprint. I discovered several marvelous authors through their line of SFR and fantasy romance, not just this series but also Michelle Sagara’s Elantra series and Gail Dayton’s Compass Rose, among others, and I wish they were still around.)

Back to The Morcai Battalion. I loved the setting, and the characters, in the original book. Not just the space opera aspects of the intergalactic war, but the relationships between the characters, the culture clash of melding two species into a single crew, and the heart stopping action of the prison planet and eventual breakout. It was a winner and I kept looking for more.

There were a couple of sequels over the years, The Recruit and Invictus. And then nothing from 2010 until now, with The Rescue.

The first three books in the series followed the human doctor, Madeline Ruszel and the alien Cehn-Tahr Dtimun, who begins as her commander and eventually becomes her husband, in spite of all the taboos and restrictions that surround the Cehn-Tahr and any possible relationship between Cehn-Tahr and humans. But the story built their relationship up over time, and it worked. It worked so well that they finally won their HEA at the end of Invictus.

Which leaves either a hole or an opportunity for the series. After reading The Rescue, I’m not quite sure which we got.

The relationship in The Rescue is between Dtimun’s successor as head of the unit, and Madeline’s successor as alien-species medic. But Rhemun is not Dtimun and Edris Mallory is not Madeline. While some of those changes make for good dramatic tension, some of them just fall a bit short.

Because Rhemun hates humans, and Edris frequently acts like a scared rabbit, or perhaps a better description would be a scared schoolgirl with a crush on a strict teacher. And it doesn’t quite work.

Dtimun, Madeline and their crew went through a bonding experience on that prison planet that transcended species or pretty much anything else. They became family in the process of saving each other, and it erased any interspecies prejudices they might have started with.

Rhemun, on the other hand, feels like all of the losses that he has experienced in his life are some human’s fault, and he has an unreasoning prejudice against the entire species. His strict disciplinary style alienates the human members of his crew, which is his intention. He also cuts Edris down at every turn, because she looks just like the woman who accidentally killed his son.

And unfortunately for Edris, his species has a highly enhanced sense of smell, so she is unable to hide her really, really unfortunate attraction for him. And he resents her for that, too.

The situation is a mess, and just gets messier, until Rhemun finally drives Edris off the ship, and very nearly drives every other human out the airlock along with her. It’s when the message finally gets through his very thick skull that he has put her in deadly danger because he can’t help but be attracted to her that their relationship moves from hate to love.

And then he drives her away again.

Escape Rating C+: I enjoyed the first part of the book. While Edris is on the ship, we see her working, we see her continuously fighting with Rhemun, we see her doing her duty as best she can under circumstances that become increasingly more unbearable by the minute. But the action clips along, and we get to see how the ship and crew both work together and don’t. It’s sad but interesting to watch Rhemun tear down a stellar unit that Dtimun spent years building up, and even sadder just how much easier it is to break than it was to build.

But through it all, Edris stands up for herself at every turn, and does her best to do her job, keep her career, and try to keep her life her own and on track. When she flees, while her reasons make sense, the story goes off the rails.

She’s in terrible danger, and it is very real. In the end, Rhemun and the crew have to rescue her to save her life from multiple dangers. And there’s a big portion of the book where she completely loses her agency, going from independent woman to beating victim to worshipful wife in a few too many steps.

And then lets herself be driven away again. Just when she finally has her new life on track, Rhemun swoops back in and tears it all apart again, even if unintentionally. The second half of the book doesn’t quite hang together. As far as the romance is concerned, his side of their relationship isn’t fully fleshed out. It’s easy to see that he wants her and wants to possess her, but we don’t see the build up of his emotions. It feels like that piece is missing.

There’s also a running theme that he omits much of the truth that Edris really needs to know. Lies of omission are still lies, and Rhemun keeps much too much from Edris that ends up biting them both in the ass – but always hers much more than his. And she’s so worshipful that she never calls him to account for any of it. She’s also much too gullible.

So I enjoyed the first half of this book, but found the second half disappointing, and sincerely hope that if the series continues, we get more heroines like Madeline Ruszel who are always part of the action and don’t let anyone steamroller them.

If you like SFR the first three books of this series are a good read, but this one feels skippable. Dammit. And they need to go back to the original cover designs, which at least hinted that this was SFR and not contemporary romance. The new covers make the series look way more like a motorcycle club romance than SFR, which is bound to disappoint people on all sides of the equation. Color me disappointed, too.

Review: No Getting Over a Cowboy by Delores Fossen + Giveaway

Review: No Getting Over a Cowboy by Delores Fossen + GiveawayNo Getting Over a Cowboy (Wrangler's Creek, #2) by Delores Fossen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Wrangler's Creek #2
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The golden cowboy of Wrangler's Creek returns home to Texas to discover some old flames never fizzle…
There are plenty of things Garrett Granger hadn't counted on losing—his child to miscarriage, his wife to another man and the family business thanks to a crooked CFO. He also hadn't counted on moving back to the family ranch, where he's met by another surprise—former flame Nicky Marlow, who is renting his grandmother's old house.
Nicky's been rebuilding her shattered life since her husband's death two years ago. But Garrett's timely arrival in Wrangler's Creek doesn't automatically make him the missing piece of the puzzle. Even if he does seem to adore her two-year-old daughter… Even if seeing him again stirs up old feelings Nicky would gladly keep buried, forcing her to wonder if moving forward has to mean leaving everything behind…

My Review:

The Granger Ranch doesn’t just keep cattle. They seem to have plenty of pasturage for an entire herd of drama llamas. Maybe two herds.

Just like the first book in the Wrangler’s Creek series, Those Texas Nights, this one is off to the races from the very first page, and doesn’t let up until the very last sentence. And even then, only sort of lets up, because I fully expect the entire series to be just this kind of crazy.

If you like your romances beginning in chaos, middling in chaos, and ending in chaos, this is a great series.

But about all that insanity, and some of it is, it makes for a very wild ride that occasionally feels like it is going to throw the reader completely off the track. Instead, it’s more like a roller coaster, where just as you pass the crest of the big hill and think you’re going to fly out of your seat, the seat belt (and gravity) pull you back firmly into the ride.

Our story begins with Garrett Granger expecting to add pasturage near his great-grandfather Z.T.’s eyesore of a tumbledown Victorian monstrosity in the middle of Granger Ranch. But instead of seeing a vacant and decaying house, he discovers that the long-abandoned homestead is a beehive of activity.

His mother, Belle, about whom more later, has leased the house to a widow’s support group for an entire year, to serve as a retreat and healing center. Belle just never bothered to tell him, and doesn’t seem to give a damn about the ranch plans that Garrett not only had, but had informed her of. And this is unfortunately typical behavior for Belle.

As soon as Garrett meets the organizer of the “Widow’s House” he figures out exactly what his mother has in mind. That organizer is Nicky Marlow, and Garrett remembers all too clearly the night that Nicky gave him her virginity at that very same house, back when they were both in high school.

It may have been half a lifetime ago, but it seems that neither of them has ever forgotten. And his mother is matchmaking again.

But it was a lifetime ago. Garrett broke up with Nicky, fell in love with another girl (unfortunately not in that order) and eventually married that other girl. He and Meredith had a daughter who was stillborn, and eventually divorced. After Meredith got caught in a YouTube video giving some anonymous cowboy a blowjob.

A cowboy who turns out to have been Nicky’s older brother.

There’s plenty of fodder for those drama llamas just between Nicky and Garrett, without factoring in the other 15 widows and Nicky’s little daughter Kaylee – along with Garrett’s heartbreak at seeing a little girl who is just the age that his daughter would have been.

The discovery of a dead body in the pantry of the old house brings the police onto the scene, along with a whole lot more craziness. And in the middle of all of this, Garrett and Nicky discover that half a lifetime isn’t nearly enough to douse the fire they still raise in each other – even if they have a hell of a time finding a moment or two for each other in the midst of the insanity that surrounds them.

Escape Rating B+: This one went way, way over the top, but in a fun way. There are a couple of points where it seems like the long arm of coincidence is just a bit too long, but then it passes that point and the reader is just along for the ride.

There does not seem to be a single person in this story who isn’t in the middle of some kind of crazy. With the exception of Nicky and Garrett, it’s all in fun, from the three widowed sisters who all have variations of penis-phobia to the tow truck owner with execrable taste in advertising signs who is assuaging her grief with the entire male population of Wranglers Creek and everyone in between. In spite of the tragedies that made all of these women candidates for the Widow’s House, they are a fun and funny bunch, even if often unintentionally. The penis-phobic sisters are a laugh riot all by themselves, albeit usually at their own expense.

The heart of the story is Nicky and Garrett, along with little Kaylee and the machinations of Garrett’s ex-wife Meredith. That Meredith wants him back isn’t much of a surprise. That she thinks she has a chance of getting him back requires an extreme amount of either self-confidence or self-absorption. Having seen Meredith in action, it’s a bit of both.

But what keeps Nicky and Garrett apart is not Meredith’s shenanigans, not that she doesn’t try. Instead, it’s their shared past, and how it affects their present. Not just that long-ago tryst, or even that Garrett broke Nicky’s heart afterwards. Both of them carry a lot of baggage from those years in-between. Most of Garrett’s baggage is out in the open – it seems like everyone saw that video. But Nicky’s is hidden. Not just her horrific childhood in Wranglers Creek, but also her disastrous marriage and its one bright result, little Kaylee.

That there is a secret about Kaylee seems obvious fairly early on. But the nature of that secret is a complete surprise, and not one the reader expects. Also not one that is stock and trope, but still has all kinds of potential negative consequences. That this particular plot thread defied all of my expectations was very well done.

But as much as I liked Nicky, Garrett and Kaylee, I really, really, really don’t like Belle. I didn’t like her in Those Texas Nights, and I don’t like her any better here. I could go a long time without reading another book about adult children who have a certifiably crazy mother. Luckily she is not as big a part of this book as she was the first one, because she doesn’t seem to approve of the way that any of her children have turned out, even though they are all quite functional and successful adults. She acts so far out-there that her children have to continually placate her in ways that drove this reader crazier than Belle. And I’m continually astonished that someone in town, if not her children, doesn’t tell her where to get off and what she can do when she gets there.

Partially because there is more Belle in Those Texas Nights, and partially because the events in the first story that are really important for the second are recapped within the context of this story, it’s not absolutely necessary to read that first book in this series before the second. But it was a lot of fun if you can either ignore Belle or if her “type” doesn’t bother you as much as it does me.

I digress.

But as much as I don’t like their mother, I do like the Granger siblings very much. The chaotic nature of their journeys to their respective happy ever afters is a hoot from beginning to end. I’m very much looking forward to bad-boy Roman finding his own good-bad girl in Branded as Trouble, coming just in time for a sizzling Summer read.

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

I am giving away a signed copy of No Getting Over a Cowboy to one lucky commenter on this tour.

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