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: The Summer that Made Us by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The Summer that Made Us by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe Summer That Made Us by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Mira Books on September 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Mothers and daughters, sisters and cousins, they lived for summers at the lake house until a tragic accident changed everything. The Summer That Made Us is an unforgettable story about a family learning to accept the past, to forgive and to love each other again.

That was then…

For the Hempsteads, summers were idyllic. Two sisters who married two brothers and had three daughters each, the women would escape the city the moment school was out to gather at the family house on Lake Waseka. The lake was a magical place, a haven where they were happy and carefree. All of their problems drifted away as the days passed in sun-dappled contentment. Until the summer that changed everything.

This is now…

After an accidental drowning turned the lake house into a site of tragedy and grief, it was closed up. For good. Torn apart, none of the Hempstead women speak of what happened that summer, and relationships between them are uneasy at best, hurtful at worst. But in the face of new challenges, one woman is determined to draw her family together again, and the only way that can happen is to return to the lake and face the truth.

Robyn Carr has crafted a beautifully woven story about the complexities of family dynamics and the value of strong female relationships.

My Review:

This is a story that will get you right in the feels. It certainly did me. And it will probably make you feel all the feels as well, as the story runs from tragedy to hope, if not to triumph, and hits every emotional stop along the journey.

Most of all, it’s a story about one particular extremely dysfunctional family, and their attempt to get to the heart of at least some of their dysfunctions and heal, before it’s too late.

And it’s about one final gift that one member of that family gives to herself, and to everyone that she has to leave behind.

The story begins with Charley and Megan, who seem more like sisters than cousins – possibly because they sorta/kinda are. Once upon a time, a young mother began bringing her two daughters to Lake Waseka, one of the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota, every summer. The two Hempstead girls, Louisa and Jo Anne, had the time of their lives. When those girls grew up, they continued the family tradition, bringing their daughters to the lake, until the summer when it all went smash.

Lou and Jo married Chet and Ray, two sisters marrying two brothers. Continuing to outwardly mirror each other’s lives, they each had three daughters, alternating years, so that the six girls looked more like stair-step sisters than cousins. Even double-cousins.

But their lives weren’t as similar as they seemed. And neither were they. Lou’s husband was boring but responsible and respectable, while Jo’s was every woman’s bad-boy dream, in more ways than one. Ray was an alcoholic and a conman, and every woman’s bicycle – not that he would have thought of it quite that way. Lou was strong and decisive, while Jo was soft and often needed direction. Apart, they drifted into the extremes of their natures, with Lou turning sharp and angry, and Jo being the world’s doormat.

Those summers kept them grounded, and they helped each other stay strong in their broken places. Until they shattered, one summer night, when Lou’s youngest daughter, 12 year old Bunny, drowned on the lake in a tragic accident.

Twenty-seven years later, the cottage is still closed up, Lou and Jo are still estranged, and every single one of the remaining girls, their now grown up daughters with children of their own, are, in one way or another lost or dysfunctional.

Megan decides to spend her very last summer trying to patch the broken places in her family. With her waning energy, she gets everyone back to the lake for one last summer, in the hopes that if they can go back to where it all went wrong, they’ll have one last chance to patch things back together.

To be each other’s strength in all their broken places once more.

Escape Rating A-: As much as I deride the term, The Summer That Made Us is a stellar work of women’s fiction. The story is all about this group of women, their feisty grandmother, their battling mothers, the troupe of sister-cousins, and even their own daughters, and all the myriad ways that those relationships have played out over time, both good and bad.

The men in this story are merely supporting characters, and spend most of the story off-stage, whether in another city or a cemetery. There’s plenty of trauma that relates all the way back to the Judge, Grandma Berkey’s husband who was Lou and Jo’s father. He’s certainly dead, and thank goodness for that!

While there is a romance in this story, the romance itself is a sub-sub-sub-plot. But it is important both as part of one sister’s healing, and as part of clearing up one of the mysteries of Charley’s last time at the lake.

At the beginning of the story, ironically, the one thing that seems marginally hopeful is Megan’s final, experimental cancer treatment, and the one thing that seems beyond all possibility of healing is Charley’s contentious relationship with her mother Lou. In that regard, nothing is as it seems.

But at that beginning, all the relationships seem to be going to hell in a handcart, and it’s a bit of a hard read to get through. Nothing seems to be looking up, and some of the interactions are downright painful.

As things begin, every single member of the family is damaged in one way or another. And all in ways that seem to trace their origins back to Bunny’s death and the abandonment of those idyllic summers at the lake. But the girls were all girls at the time, ranging up from Bunny to somewhere in their teens. They all saw those lake summers as perfect, and were not necessarily aware of all the tensions running underneath, especially the roiling tensions between Lou and Jo.

Bunny’s death was not the only thing that went wrong that summer. But after it, nothing went right. And unfortunately for everyone, one of the underlying dysfunctions of the entire family was that no one ever talked about what was really wrong.

One of the things that is so terrific about this story is that even though it all went wrong and the same time and in the same place, for each one of the women that wrongness burst out into entirely different directions. All of the women, even in the end Lou, appear as ultimately sympathetic and surprisingly unique characters. They never seem alike, they are not cookie-cutters of each other. Each one is distinct, both in their voice and in their manifestation of the family dysfunction.

And that’s the biggest problem they have to work with. Or against. Until they can finally share all the separate pieces of that broken story, none of them will be able to heal.

At the beginning of The Summer That Made Us, it feels like this one, last summer on the lake is Charley’s gift to Megan. But in the end, this summer turns out to be one final gift that Megan gives to Charley, and everyone in her family.

And it’s beautiful.

(Bring tissues)

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

I’m very pleased to be able to give away a copy of The Summer That Made Us to one lucky US or Canadian commenter. I hope that the winner enjoys the story as much as I did.

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Review: Serenity Harbor by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Serenity Harbor by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawaySerenity Harbor (Haven Point, #6) by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Haven Point #6
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the town of Haven Point, love can be just a wish — and one magical kiss — away…
Computer-tech millionaire Bowie Callahan is about the last person that schoolteacher Katrina Bailey wants to work for. As far as she can see, he’s arrogant, entitled and not up to the task of caring for his young half brother, Milo. But Kat is, especially if it brings her closer to her goal of adopting an orphaned little girl. And as her kindness and patience work wonders with Milo, she realises there’s more to sexy, wary Bo.
Bo never imagined he’d be tasked with caring for a sibling he didn’t know existed. Then again, he never pictured himself impulsively kissing vibrant, compassionate Katrina in the moonlight. Now he’s ready to make her dream of family come true…and hoping there’s room in it for him, too…

My Review:

I really enjoyed my first trip to Haven Point with Riverbend Road. I liked it so much that I went back again to experience Snowfall on Haven Point. So when this one popped up at Serenity Harbor, it seemed like a great time to go back!

I haven’t managed to go back and read the first four books in the series, but I’ll probably get around to it sooner or later – this is a nice place with terrific people. It also feels like it’s right next door to Robyn Carr’s Thunder Point, even if the geography doesn’t work out. But you don’t have to read them all to get right into the action of this one.

That being said, I’m kind of glad I had read Riverbend Road, because the wedding that all of the Baileys are back in town for is the one that is set up in Riverbend Road, the wedding between Wyn Bailey and her former boss, Haven Point Police Chief Cade Emmett. The story in Serenity Harbor is not really dependent on the previous book, but it is nice to see Wyn get all of her happy.

Serenity Harbor is Wyn’s sister Kat’s story. Katrina Bailey is back in town for her sister’s wedding. She’s spent the past year in Colombia, teaching English and helping out at a local orphanage, where she’s fallen hard for Gabi, a special needs child who has become her daughter in everything but blood. And paperwork. Endless, endless, EXPENSIVE amounts of paperwork.

And Wyn seems to be the only member of her family who really, really gets that Kat will do anything to take care of 4-year-old Gabi, even if that means moving to Colombia permanently. Kat’s overbearing mother is just certain that if the right man comes along, Kat will forget all about little Gabi.

Because that’s the way Kat used to be. She ended up in Colombia because she was following the wrong man. That’s what Kat used to do, fall for whoever was handy, without thinking. But since she found herself in Colombia, alone and broke with Gabi depending on her, Kat has been determined to become a different, better and more responsible person.

And that’s where Bowie Callahan steps into the picture, along with his little brother Milo. Milo, like Gabi, is a special needs child. But where Gabi has Down Syndrome, Milo is somewhere on the autism spectrum, and Bowie, chief technical wizard at Caine Technology, has no idea how to cope.

But then again, until about a month ago, Bowie had no idea he had a little brother. It was only upon the death of their mother that Bowie learned that she had had another child long after he cut ties – ties that he desperately needed to cut for his own survival.

That’s where Kat steps in. Literally. She’s an elementary education teacher who specializes in kids with special needs, so when she sees Milo about to have a meltdown at the grocery store, she steps in and deflects him until he calms down.

Bowie offers Kat an absolutely outrageous salary to become Milo’s live-in nanny, baby-sitter, caretaker and teacher while she’s in town for her sister’s wedding. Kat, partially against her better judgment and partially to get away from her overbearing mother, takes the job, reasoning that the outrageous salary will help fund her quest to adopt Gabi.

What she doesn’t count on is falling in love with both of the Callahans. By the time she’s ready to go back to Colombia, she breaks both Milo’s and Bowie’s hearts, and very much vice versa. But Gabi needs Kat. And Kat needs to stand on her own two feet, for the first time in her life.

No matter what it costs.

Escape Rating B: The ending of this one seriously got me in the feels. So much so that it raised the grade from the Cs to the Bs in one single pang of my heart.

I also really liked Bowie and his relationship with Milo. He loves his little brother and manages not to resent all the changes that Milo has made in his life. He’s frustrated a whole lot of the time, and with good reason, but he never resents Milo himself. But his life is completely out of control, and he has no idea how to get it back on track. Not that he hasn’t tried, but Milo defeats anyone who doesn’t know how to care for him. There’s a specialist on the way, but she’s tied up for another three weeks, and Bowie has a gap he can’t fill. He’s tried. He loves Milo, but love is not enough.

Bowie is a computer programmer, and a damn good one. Also very successful at it. But I recognized his habit of losing all track of time when he’s “in the zone” because it’s a very familiar pattern to anyone who has a programmer in their life. When they’re coding, they are just gone. So I smiled every time Bowie did this, because it was so familiar.

I liked Kat as a person. She was a great heroine for this story, and the author did an excellent job of introducing the challenges and the joys of parenting a special needs child through Kat’s and Bowie’s relationships with Milo and Gabi. This story did a great job of making me feel for this situation, in spite of my not usually enjoying stories that center around difficulties with child-raising.

But, and it turned out to be a very big but, I had a difficult time understanding why Kat refused to let Bowie in. I didn’t feel as if I got enough of Kat’s past trauma to really buy into her belief that what she felt for Bowie, and what he felt for her, was just another one of her bad decisions about men, which don’t seem all that bad in retrospect. They seemed like typical high school, college and early 20s experiments.

I understood why she wanted to stand on her own two feet in regards to Gabi’s adoption, but she walled everyone out to the point of not discussing her her hopes, or her quite reasonable concerns about the process, with anyone who might help her think things through or even provide a sounding board. Every time she dithered about it, the story sagged a bit. At least for this reader.

But that ending made me tear up. Happy tears, but an intense reaction for a book that I struggled with a bit in the middle. I’ll be back to Haven Point this winter with Sugar Pine Trail. I want to see how they’re all doing! And the heroine is a librarian, which makes this one doubly irresistible!

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

I am giving away a copy of Serenity Harbor to one lucky U.S. commenter.

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Review: Any Day Now by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: Any Day Now by Robyn Carr + GiveawayAny Day Now (Sullivan's Crossing, #2) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Sullivan's Crossing #2
Pages: 384
Published by Mira Books on April 18th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The highly anticipated sequel to #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr's What We Find transports readers back to Sullivan's Crossing. The rustic campground at the crossroads of the Colorado and Continental Divide trails welcomes everyone—whether you're looking for a relaxing weekend getaway or a whole new lease on life. It's a wonderful place where good people face their challenges with humor, strength and love.
For Sierra Jones, Sullivan's Crossing is meant to be a brief stopover. She's put her troubled past behind her but the path forward isn't yet clear. A visit with her big brother Cal and his new bride, Maggie, seems to be the best option to help her get back on her feet.
Not wanting to burden or depend on anyone, Sierra is surprised to find the Crossing offers so much more than a place to rest her head. Cal and Maggie welcome her into their busy lives and she quickly finds herself bonding with Sully, the quirky campground owner who is the father figure she's always wanted. But when her past catches up with her, it's a special man and an adorable puppy who give her the strength to face the truth and fight for a brighter future. In Sullivan's Crossing Sierra learns to cherish the family you are given and the family you choose.

My Review:

First of all, I love the places that Robyn Carr creates. Thunder Point was a terrific little town, and now Timberlake Colorado, the town near Sullivan’s Crossing, also seems like a fine place to get a fresh start.

And that’s just what Sierra Jones is looking for when she arrives in Timberlake in her beat-up orange VW Beetle, fondly known as “The Pumpkin” for obvious reasons. Nearly 30 and just 9 months sober, Sierra has come to Timberlake planning to spend some quality time with her brother Cal (hero of What We Find) and getting to know her new sister-in-law and the ‘bump’ that will become her niece in a few short months time.

Cal found a new life and fresh start in Timberlake, and healing in the beauties of nature that surround Sullivan’s Crossing at the conjunction of the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails. Sierra hopes for the same.

She ran away to rehab to escape something horrible, only to discover that the events that led up to her break happened, at least partially, because she really was an alcoholic, just like so many people, including Cal, told her. Running away from her messes into rehab was the first smart decision she had made in quite a while.

Sierra got scared straight. And she’s putting in the work to stay straight, one day at a time. But what scared her is big and bad and very, very real, and until she deals with it, she’s always going to feel just one day away from making more bad choices, or having her choices taken away from her, once and for all.

So Sierra comes to Timberlake for a fresh start where she can stand on her own two feet but still have support when she needs it. And so that she can be there for Cal when he needs her. It’s about time.

But just like her brother, Sierra comes to Timberlake looking to heal herself, and certainly not looking for a relationship. And that’s always just when you find one – when you are definitely not looking.

Conrad Boyle, (everyone calls him Connie whether he likes it or not), is a member of the Timberlake Fire Department. He’s also a paramedic who does search and rescue in his “off” hours. He doesn’t think he’s any better at picking the right partner than Sierra is. His last relationship ended in disaster, and he’s sure he’s better off not looking for love, because what finds him turns out to be anything but.

So of course Sierra and Connie fall for each other. Both unwilling at first to admit that what they have found is more than a fling. And Sierra more than a little bit afraid that when Connie learns the whole truth about her, he’ll run away as far and as fast as he can, leaving her devastated and alone. Again.

Instead, her past comes looking for her. But when it finally catches up to her, this time she doesn’t cave in. She nails it to the wall and beats it with a baseball bat.

Escape Rating B: I do love visiting Sullivan’s Crossing. It’s a great place, populated with a terrific bunch of people. Even the local bad apples are reasonably sympathetic and understandably human, if still a bit sour to the local taste.

I also like that the protagonists of the series are all adults with real adult problems. There’s plenty of angst at the right spots, but it’s real-life angst. Everyone has been banged around a bit in the school of hard knocks, and whatever they are agonizing over is stuff that’s really there, not made up drama. The series so far is also blissfully free of ridiculous misunderstandammits.

In spite of his spectacularly bad luck at relationships, Connie is a genuinely nice guy. He’s a good man who does some very hard things. Being a paramedic, even in a small town, means that he’s seen a lot of death and dismemberment, and had to rescue a lot of people from a lot of bad things. Sometimes he fails. So although his life looks mostly sunny, he understands in his bones that there are dark places and dark things in the world. He has the empathy to understand Sierra’s pain without either papering it over or rejecting it, and her.

Sierra, of course, is just certain that he can do better than her mixed-up self. But the heart wants what the heart wants.

The journey in this book is Sierra’s. She needs to decide she’s worthy, and she does it by facing the demons in her past. And that’s where things get both interesting and a bit murky.

I loved watching Sierra build a life for herself. Not just the romance, but everything that Sierra does to make herself part of Sullivan’s Crossing, and the way that it makes itself part of her. The mentor/father-figure relationship she builds with Sully is lovely. I’d say sweet but Sully probably wouldn’t approve.

But the more she reveals about herself, not just inside her own head but to Cal and eventually Connie, the more the reader is certain that her past is coming to get her. Literally. The story builds and builds the tension of Sierra waiting for that very dangerous other shoe to drop, to the point where I wanted to read ahead just to find out if they ever did get Chekhov’s gun down off the wall and just shoot it already.

When that climax finally comes, it gets wrapped up a bit too quickly. The way it gets wrapped up was wonderful, but that other shoe hung up there much longer than the actual drop got wrapped up.

But I loved my visit to Sullivan’s Crossing, and enjoyed it so much that I raced through the book just to see how everyone was doing and get to know the newbies. I can’t wait to go back!

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

I’m giving away a copy of Any Day Now to one lucky winner in the continental U.S.

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Review: Forever a Hero by Linda Lael Miller + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albeit a fascinating one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Life She Wants by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Snowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

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


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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t remain an obligation for long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Always a Cowboy by Linda Lael Miller + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

His mother has a plan to fix that problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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