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
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
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: Forever a Hero by Linda Lael Miller + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Always a Cowboy by Linda Lael Miller + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

His mother has a plan to fix that problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Once a Rancher by Linda Lael Miller + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Once a Rancher by Linda Lael Miller + Excerpt + GiveawayOnce a Rancher (The Carsons of Mustang Creek, #1) by Linda Lael Miller
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Carsons of Mustang Creek #1
Pages: 320
Published by HQN Books on March 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Carsons of Mustang Creek: three men who embody the West and define what it means to be a rancher, a cowboy and a hero in this brand-new series from the queen of Western romance.
Slater Carson might be a businessman by trade, but he’s a cowboy at heart—and he knows the value of a hard day’s work under the hot Wyoming sun. So when he sees troubled teen Ryder heading down a dangerous path, he offers the boy a job on the ranch he shares with his two younger brothers. And since Ryder’s temporary guardian is the gorgeous new resort manager, Grace Emery, Slater figures it can’t hurt to keep a closer eye on her as well…
Grace Emery doesn’t have time for romance. Between settling in to her new job and caring for her ex-husband’s rebellious son, her attraction to larger-than-life Slater is a distraction she can’t afford. But when the past catches up to her in Mustang Creek, she’ll discover just how far Slater will go to protect what matters most—and that love is always worth fighting for.

My Review:

After reviewing a couple of books that dove deeply into some dark history, it was fun to read a fairly light contemporary love story. Especially one from Linda Lael Miller, because her characters are always so engaging. As they certainly are in Once a Rancher, the first book in her new Carsons of Mustang Creek series.

We’ve spent time in Mustang Creek before. Her Brides of Bliss County series is set in the place, and both the brides and the grooms of the Bliss County series make cameo appearances in Once a Rancher, and hopefully the rest of the series. It is always great to find out what happens after the happy ever after, especially when it’s still happy.

This series looks like a trilogy, as each story will feature one of the Carson sons of the Carson’s combination ranch and winery, and there are only three of them, and no daughters. They are all grown up now, and each of them has found very much their own way.

always a cowboy by linda lael millerMace Carson, the youngest, runs the winery. It’s his brainchild and at the moment the only love of his life. Drake Carson, the middle son, runs the ranch. It looks like Drake’s story is in book 2 in the series, Always a Cowboy.

But Once a Rancher is the story of Slater Carson, the oldest of the three, and now somewhere in his mid-30s. As the title says, Slater once was a rancher, but now he’s a successful producer of popular documentary films. (Think of Ken Burns’ career attached to a much younger cowboy, and that’s probably about right)

Just as Slater wraps up his latest project, Grace Emery barges into his life. She’s hauled her stepson out to invade his office because the boy swiped something cool from the production site. Young Ryder is there to apologize and accept whatever punishment gets meted out.

Slater finds himself completely gobsmacked by the tall, beautiful redhead who used to be a cop. And it seems to be vice-versa.

Right after Grace’s life collides with Slater’s, another event occurs that tries to throw her well-planned life into chaos. Grace, the manager of the local retreat and spa, fires an employee who has been caught stealing from the resort. Instead of taking his dismissal with even a modicum of, well, grace, the man starts spouting curses and threats.

marriage charm by linda lael millerAs the story progresses, Grace finds herself the target of an escalating series of incidents, from damaging her car to setting fire to her house. But as an ex-cop, Grace is used to taking care of her own business. She lets the police, in the person of Spence Hogan, local police chief and hero of The Marriage Charm, do his job. She doesn’t let Slater, who has become increasingly involved in her life, take revenge or go all protective Neanderthal for her.

Instead, in spite of the air of increasing menace, Slater and Grace become more involved with each other. That there are complications, like the intrusive inquisitiveness of Slater’s family, and Grace’s not-so-temporary custody of her teenage stepson, just make the times that they are able to spend together all that much sweeter. And hotter.

Neither of them was planning on a long-term relationship. They were both actually planning not to have one, not just because of those complications but because Slater spends as much time away from Mustang Creek making films as he does at home helping with the ranch. They really don’t have time for a relationship.

But the heart wants what it wants. Whether the human it’s attached to is ready or not.

Escape Rating B+: A big part of the strength of this story is in its family relationships. The posturing, teasing, joking and even betting that goes on between the three Carson brothers and their long-suffering mother is often funny, and always heartwarming. This family may bet on every single aspect of Slater’s relationship with Grace, but they all obviously love each other and pull together fast in a crisis. Although there is a shared tragedy in the past, the boys’ father died when they were young, this is a very, very functional family, and it is great to see a hero who comes from a solid background.

(Fixing bad boys is interesting, but they generally don’t make good husbands or provide a solid footing on which to build a relationship.)

There are also children in this mix who add to both the complications and to the joy. Slater has a 9 year old daughter from an early relationship. He is a responsible co-parent, without having ever married the girl’s mother. Instead, they are good friends and it all works for everyone, especially including the little girl.

Grace also has parental responsibilities, but they are much more troubled and much less stable. Grace’s ex could easily be the hero of a military romance, but he is so focused on his military career that everyone else in his life comes, not second, but more like 9th or 10th. Grace divorced him because he wasn’t there, either physically or emotionally. It was not a partnership, instead, she was a convenience for him. And that’s no life for anyone. But part of that convenience was being a parental figure for his son Ryder, and when they divorced, Grace was forced to leave Ryder with his grandparents. When those grandparents had a health crisis, Ryder bounced back to Grace, but she has no legal authority over the 14-year-old. He just has nowhere else to go and he knows it. Ryder feels abandoned, only because he is. While Grace loves the boy and is trying her best, she’s in over her head.

Slater and the Carson family give Ryder more of the stability he needs, and also a job and purpose. That’s a match made in heaven. The Carsons are happy to have one more boy around, and Ryder needs to be part of a family.

The part of this story I liked the best was the way that the threat to Grace was handled. In so many romances, when the heroine is placed in jeopardy the hero swoops in to save her, whether she wants to be saved or not. In this story, Grace rescues herself. Not because she personally takes down the bad guy, but because she follows procedure and lets the police handle it the way it should be handled. All the agency is hers.

When she needs Slater, he comes when she calls, she lets herself lean on him for a few minutes, and then SHE does the necessary. He never takes over for her, no matter how obvious it is that he wants to. It’s her problem, and her responsibility. Neither does she go off half-cocked making things worse, so that eventually she HAS to be rescued.

As a reader, I liked Grace a lot, and I especially liked her attitude about this situation. She does flail a bit about the relationship they’ve fallen into in spite of themselves, but she never lets him take care of her business. Good on her.

It was terrific seeing all those “Brides” of Bliss County swoop in to help plan the wedding. And great to discover that everyone is still well and happy. I can’t wait to hear more about everyone, and see what happens to Drake in Always a Cowboy.

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

Linda and Harlequin HQN are giving away a copy of Once a Rancher to one lucky U.S. commenter.

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To read an excerpt from the first chapter, check below the fold.

Continue reading “Review: Once a Rancher by Linda Lael Miller + Excerpt + Giveaway”