Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kiss Me Hello - Grace Burrowes (Sourcebooks Casablanca - Mar 2015)

Series: Sweetest Kisses (Book 3)

He loves her, she loves him not...?

In the third novel of The Sweetest Kisses series, single mom Sidonie Lindstrom has her hands full with a troubled foster son, an abrupt adjustment to country living, and an unforeseen lack of funds. When her taciturn neighbor, MacKenzie Knightley, repeatedly offers practical help, Sid reminds herself she's not interested in the neighbor-despite his kindness, pragmatism and quiet charm. MacKenzie sees the vulnerability beneath her pride, and he's determined to change her mind...

Fantastic book, with wonderful characters, intense emotions, and unexpected romance. There were places that made me laugh out loud, and others that brought me to tears. Sidonie is a single woman who is also a foster mother. She has moved herself and Luis out of Baltimore into the countryside of western Maryland, to get him away from some bad influences. The property is a farm, recently inherited from her brother. Sid is not a country person and only intends to stay on the property for a short time. A week or so after moving in, she discovers two huge horses on her property. Mac is the person who comes to help her out with her problem. Their first encounter is pretty funny, with Sid terrified of the two huge animals and determined to get them off her property. Mac is calm, steady and practical, and successfully talks Sid off the ledge. He also gets Luis involved, and takes them to dinner, where Sid manages to throw his well-ordered life into turmoil.

I loved Mac. As the oldest, he runs their law firm and the family with a steady hand. He's been there for his brothers, supporting them when they need it, and prodding them when they need that too. He's very quiet, and something of a loner. He hasn't even dated in ten years, and even his brothers don't know why. He's a bit lonely, but contents himself with his nieces and his brothers. Then he meets Sid, to whom he is instantly and intensely attracted. He also likes her, with her humor and her devotion to her foster son.

Sid is also great. She has been a foster mother for several years, Luis being her latest and favorite. She would love to adopt him, but he's resisting that. She is still grieving from the loss of her brother, and trying to deal with his estate. Moving to the farm gives her and Luis a better place to live, but she's feeling rather out of her depth. She's worn out from trying to cope with everything, plus she worries about how well Luis is really fitting in. Between taking care of her brother before his death, and her foster parent duties, she too has not had a relationship in a long time. There's something else that holds her back too, something she tries not to think about. She too, is instantly attracted to Mac, and once past the initial meeting, finds that she really likes him.

I loved the development of their relationship. It begins as friendship, with Mac driven to help them settle in. I loved seeing his knack for showing up just when he's needed. He's there when an unpleasant social worker shows up, and marshals the troops to come to the rescue, when she makes threats about Sid's ability to keep Luis. Sid and Mac continue to grow closer, sharing confidences and kisses, as the friendship heats up to being more. But there's trouble coming because Mac hasn't been completely open with her. She believes that he's a full-time farrier, when that's just a sideline for him. In real life, he's a criminal defense lawyer with the family firm. Problem is, Sid hates lawyers. She's had too many bad experiences with them, from the ones that tried to put her in foster care when her parents died to the ones that are currently dealing with her brother's estate. It isn't a happy time when that comes out, especially with the way it came out. Mac knows he's screwed up, but getting Sid to listen to him is going to be a challenge. Their hands are forced, however, when the expected threat to Sid and Luis's situation arrives. Once again it is the Knightleys to the rescue. The courtroom scene is emotional, sometimes amusing, and deeply satisfying. It is capped in a most unexpected way by Mac. There was another twist at the end that I hadn't seen coming, but brought the book to a fantastic close.

I also loved the secondary characters. Luis was the most important of those, as Sid's foster son. The love between them was obvious. I also liked the way that they looked out for each other. He is amazingly sensitive for a fifteen year old boy. He also tries very hard to hide his vulnerability under a tough façade. I loved how he and Mac connected first over the horses and then through their love for Sid. Not to say that he was perfect. He still made some typically teenage mistakes, such as getting drunk during the work party. I loved that scene, as all three Knightley brothers took care of him. I ached for Luis and everything he'd been through with the foster system. I could see his fear leading up to his court date, and held my breath that the guys would be able to help him. I also hurt for him and the secret that was keeping him from letting Sid adopt him. It was awesome to see how everything turned out. I would love to eventually see him have a story of his own.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Rebel of Copper Creek - R.C. Ryan (Forever - Feb 2015)

Series: Cowboys of Copper Creek (Book 2)

A love worth fighting for . . .

The last thing widow Juliet Grayson needs is a man in her life. Between caring for her two young sons and maintaining her husband's ranch, her hands are more than full. Then she meets Griff Warren. With his quiet strength and his easy way with her boys, she's tempted to trust him. But if there's anything she's learned, it's that love only leads to heartbreak.

Former Marine Griff Warren never thought he'd settle down. Rebellious and proud, he's always been on his own . . . until the father he never knew he had died, leaving him with land that is his legacy and brothers to share the load. He doesn't need more than that. But Juliet touches something deep inside him-and he wants nothing more than to protect her and her sons. Now if only he can convince her to take a second chance at true love.

Very good book, filled with love, family, friendship and a bit of mystery. Griff grew up never knowing who his father was and resenting it. He had a temper as a kid, which got him into a lot of trouble. When he grew up he joined the Marines, giving him a sense of belonging. Shortly before she died, his mother contacted Griff's father and told him about Griff, but before they could meet, Bear MacKenzie was murdered. However, Bear's wife and two sons welcomed Griff into the family with open arms. After leaving the Marines, Griff settled into learning how to be a rancher and part of a family.

Juliet is a widow with two young sons. Her husband had been a Navy pilot who died months after injuries received in a crash. He left his family's ranch to Juliet and his sons. She is determined to preserve the ranch, and starts by turning it into a therapy ranch for wounded veterans. She has more than enough to keep her busy and no desire to add a new man into her life.

Griff and Juliet meet through one of her therapy patients who is a former comrade of Griff's. The first meeting doesn't go all that well as she mistakes him for someone else. But under the antagonism is an instant attraction that neither one can deny, though both try to resist. Juliet feels guilty and disloyal to her late husband every time that she feels something for Griff. At the same time, his obvious connection with her sons warms her heart and makes her dream of what could be. Griff sees a bit of himself in  her two boys, making him want to be there for them. He also finds himself wanting to make things easier for Juliet and discovers a growing sense of rightness the more time he spends with her. When threats and acts of vandalism put her and the boys in danger, Griff's sense of protectiveness steps in to take care of the family.

I loved Griff. I ached for him as a kid with the anger issues caused by his feelings of abandonment. I understood his need to confront his father. I really enjoyed seeing him take to the ranch life. I loved how he accepts and has been accepted by his new family. He's still feeling his way a little bit, since he's never had anything like it before. There are several great scenes with his brothers and grandfather, where the love and respect are obvious under the laughter and teasing. He was a bit stunned by the strength of his attraction to Juliet. I also loved seeing him with Ethan and Casey. He always seemed to know just how to talk to them. Best of all was his determination to look out for Juliet. He was a bit surprised by how deep the need was. It was sweet to see how he quickly came to put their needs ahead of his own. I loved seeing him bring her into the loving embrace of the MacKenzies.

Juliet was great, too. She hasn't had it easy over the last several years. Taking care of her husband after his injuries, with a three year old son and pregnant with another had left her reeling after his death. She was determined to follow his wishes and raise his boys on the family ranch, even though she knew nothing about ranching. She has a giving nature, which leads her to turn part of the ranch into a place of therapy for wounded warriors. She has shut herself off from any new relationships, first because she would feel guilty, and second because loving and losing is just too hard. She's overwhelmed by everything that needs doing, but she digs in and does her best. She has a bit of temper of her own, as shown in her initial meeting with Griff, but mostly she's pretty even-keeled. She's a terrific mom who puts her kids needs ahead of her own. She also has a good sense of humor and a kind heart, which shows in her dealings with her wounded warriors.

I loved the development of the relationship between Griff and Juliet. The chemistry is hot from the first, and it takes a bit for Griff to realize he needs to back off a little or risk scaring her off completely. Juliet fights what is growing between them because of her fear of moving on. Trying to keep things to just friends has the opposite effect. I loved seeing the boys' efforts to make Griff part of the family, as his frequent presence on her ranch begins to feel normal. Even when she tried to push him away, Juliet would end up getting closer. As the strange things happened on her ranch, she found herself more willing to lean on his strength and accept his help. It took a little while for each of them to accept what they were feeling, then they had to find the courage to speak up. I loved Griff's big moment at the end, and his inclusion of Ethan and Casey.

There is also some trouble that wends its way through the book. First is the ongoing mystery behind the murder of Bear MacKenzie. It is mentioned in this book, but there is no progress toward the resolution of it. The main mystery is the trouble that Juliet is experiencing. There is a wrangler that makes unwanted advances, and makes threats after his attempts are thwarted. Threatening phone calls and vandalism on the ranch have everyone on edge until the man can be caught. Then her son Ethan is kidnapped. Everyone thinks they know who it is, until an unexpected twist shows a different player altogether. I suspected this one was going to be trouble, but didn't expect that much. The final confrontation was intense and very scary. I loved how it was Griff's Marine experience that helped him save the day. There was also a brief mention of the family lawyer's son and some papers, where I got the feeling there was something more going on. I didn't like him at all.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Law and Disorder - Heather Graham (HI #1689 - Feb 2017)

Series: Finnegan Connection (Book 1)

Trust the enemy?

Desperate to escape her kidnappers, Kody Cameron can turn to only one man…and he's holding a gun. Outnumbered and trapped in the deadly Everglades, she has little recourse, but something in this captor's eyes makes her believe she can trust him. Does she dare to take the risk?

Undercover agent Nick Connolly has met Kody before and knows she might very well blow his cover. Though determined to maintain his facade, he can't let Kody die. He won't. And his decision to change his own rules of law and order are about to make all hell break loose.

Good book. Kody is home in Florida for a couple weeks before starting her new play in New York. She is stunned to be taken at gunpoint by a man in the mask of an old time gangster, and even more so to discover that her family's museum has been taken over by a gang of them. The leader of the gang is convinced that she knows where a decades old stash of jewels and money is, and wants her to lead them to it. Kody is scared, but determined to do what she must to protect the other hostages. Oddly enough, one of the gang seems to have the same intent, a man whose eyes seem strangely familiar.

Nick has been working undercover for about three weeks. He is with an FBI unit in New York who has been tracking "Dillinger" for months, trying to get the evidence they need to arrest him. Nick and Kody briefly encountered each other at a mutual friend's pub in New York. Nick is worried that Kody will recognize him and blow his cover.

That brief encounter had sparked an instant attraction. It was still there, though Kody was confused at first by the attraction she felt to a criminal. He was protective of them, and had moments when he was nice to her, but he was a criminal! If Nick hadn't been sent off for the undercover mission, he would have asked Kody out. He hasn't been able to get her out of his mind, but this isn't the way he wanted to meet her again. I liked the way that he appreciated her protectiveness for her friends and the intelligence with which she approached her situation. I enjoyed his fight to keep in character and not give in to the attraction. I loved Nick's quick action to ask her out once they were out of the swamp, and Kody's own pursuit of what she wanted. I liked their frank talk about how their careers have affected past relationships and what they want from this one. I loved the ending, with Kody having her big moment with friends and family there. Nick had his a little later, and I liked the hint of vulnerability there. I hope to see more of them in a later book.

The action is intense from the beginning as Dillinger and his people hold hostages to ensure that their demands are met. He is constantly on edge and making threats against Kody and the hostages. Nick has to play things very cautiously, keeping to his criminal persona while at the same time trying to keep them alive. Kody is pretty feisty for a captive and pushes the envelope by being somewhat confrontational with Dillinger. Her reasons are good, as she wants to ensure the safety of her friends and guests, and she's pretty sure they won't hurt her until they get what they want. There are several times when Nick isn't sure how they'll get out of it. Nick could have shot Dillinger and ended things, but he discovered that a little boy had also been kidnapped and hidden as "insurance" and he has to discover the boy's whereabouts before that happens.

The danger changes when the action moves from the house to the Everglades. Dillinger is becoming more intense and unpredictable. Besides having to deal with the criminals, there are also environmental dangers to contend with, such as alligators, crocodiles and snakes. There's some heart-pounding action as Nick and Kody manage to escape, but while they are safe Dillinger has disappeared. Just when Kody and Nick think they are safe, he reappears. I loved Kody's presence of mind here as she attempts to contribute to her rescue. The final confrontation was terrific as Kody's contribution, along with Nick's actions finally bring him down. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hot Cowboy Nights - Carolyn Brown (Forever - June 2016)

Series: Lucky Penny Ranch (Book 2)

Let’s give ’em something to talk about…

If gossip is the lifeblood of a small town, then Lizzy Logan has been its beating heart. After being dumped by her fiancé for another woman, she could have decided to crawl under a rock. But no, she’d rather really set tongues wagging by “moving on” with one of the hottest cowboys in Texas, who happens to live next door at the Lucky Penny Ranch. Those busybodies don’t have to know it’s actually all pretend. And just because Lizzy has no aim to tame her wild, blue-eyed neighbor doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy the ride of her life.

Toby Dawson never was and never will be the settling-down type. But what harm could there be in agreeing to be Lizzy’s pretend boyfriend? They’ll put on a show for a few weeks and be done. Yet the more he gets to know Lizzy -- really know her -- the harder it is for him to keep his hands off of her in private. Soon this rough-and-ready cowboy is hoping to heal Lizzy’s bruised heart and turn their fake affair into a true romance…

Fun book. Toby is the second partner in the Lucky Penny Ranch. He is determined to help his brother and cousin turn it into a successful cattle ranch. He met Lizzy when his brother Blake married her sister Allie (Wild Cowboy Ways). Lizzy had recently been dumped by her wannabe preacher fiancé and is still feeling the effects of the gossip surrounding it. There is an immediate spark between the two of them, and they begin a secret fling. For three weeks they get together whenever they can. But after three weeks, Lizzy realizes that she wants more from a man - she's ready to look for her forever man, and Toby isn't it. He's made no secret of the fact that he's not the settling down kind. But they remain friends.

Then Lizzy gets word that her ex-fiancé is coming back to town. She's over him, but the gossips are having a field day, making it look like she's still moping over him. And Toby is having problems with one of the women in town aggressively pursuing him. So they decide to have a pretend relationship with each other until after the Fourth of July.

I loved the relationship that grew between them. It started out a bit backwards, with the short affair that ended, then they dated, but it worked for them. The sparks are still there, but they do their best to ignore them. Instead, their pretend dating gives them a chance to actually get to know each other. Though Toby comes across at first as a real player, he's never mean about it. All the ladies he's with know the score and everyone ends up happy.  I loved seeing the changes in Lizzy from the first book, where she tried to make herself over to fit Mitch's requirements. Now she's determined to be the woman she was meant to be, and honest to herself. It only takes a couple "fake" dates for them to realize that they truly like each other. Toby is rather confused by the discovery that being with Lizzy doesn't make him want to head for the hills, that he's actually thinking of long-term with her. There are several funny parts where he is mentally arguing with himself about what he sees happening to himself. Lizzy has the same problem. She knows Toby's reputation and doesn't want to get her heart broken by falling for him. But the more time she's with him, the more she wants it all.

It was sweet to see how Toby's romantic nature came out. He's a little bit vulnerable because Lizzy is the first he's wanted a real relationship with and he's afraid of screwing it up. His efforts to woo her are sweet and romantic and just right for the woman she is. He also has a pretty good protective streak, and is there to back her up when she needs it. I loved Lizzy's side of the story. She is sassy, always ready with a comeback, loyal to her friends and family. Having Toby for a fake boyfriend will help her fight back against the attitudes of some of the townspeople. I loved seeing the two of them playing it up for the ones who are especially judgmental. It was even more fun when they decided to make their relationship real. Their dates would try to be romantic, but there was usually something, be it a skunk, a tornado, or an accident that would throw a complication into the works. Each time it brought them closer. Even their one argument was short-lived because one realized they were in the wrong and admitted it, and the other didn't hold a grudge. As it got closer to time for the festival and Mitch's return to Dry Creek, Toby got really nervous that Lizzy might go back to him. I absolutely loved the meeting between Lizzy and Mitch, and seeing her stand up to him. There was a nice little twist involving his new girl, too. I also loved the surprise that Lizzy had for Toby at the very end.

I loved the small town characters too. Once again Lucy is there to stand up for one of the Logan girls against the local self-righteous crowd. She also doesn't hold back from stirring the pot a little bit. Dora June and her crowd were a right pain in the neck and I loved seeing Lizzy and Toby pushing back against them. I loved the scene where it was her against the Logan girls (and mom Katy) and had to laugh at the consequences of her actions. There were also those who were against the Dawsons and their plans for the Lucky Penny. I loved seeing Blake and Toby's determination to prove them all wrong. It was great to see more of Blake and Allie and also Deke. He's as much of a player as Toby and I can't wait to see him fall. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Nobody But You - Jill Shalvis (Grand Central - Apr 2016)

Series: Cedar Ridge (Book 3)

SOMETIMES YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN . . .

After an overseas mission goes wrong, Army Special Forces officer Jacob Kincaid knows where he must go to make things right: back home to the tiny town of Cedar Ridge, Colorado. All he needs to scrub away his painful past is fresh mountain air, a lakeside cabin, and quiet solitude. But what he discovers is a gorgeous woman living on a boat at his dock.

Sophie Marren has nowhere else to go. She's broke, intermittently seasick, and fighting a serious attraction to the brooding, dishy, I'm-too-sexy-for-myself guy who's now claiming her dock. Something about Jacob's dark intensity makes her want to tease-and tempt-him beyond measure. Neither one wants to give any ground . . . until they realize the only true home they have is with each other.

Excellent story of friendship, love, family and trust. Jacob has been away from his family for ten years. While growing up, he couldn't wait to shake the dust of the small town from his feet. He had been expecting his twin brother Hudson (My Kind of Wonderful) to go with him, and when Hud refused it created a rift between them. A devastating loss has sent Jacob home to heal and to try to come to terms with his past. He knows what he has to do, he's just having some trouble summoning up the courage to do it. So he's hiding out at a cabin on the lake when he discovers he's not alone.

Sophie has her own healing to do. She's twenty-five, newly divorced, and broke except for the boat she's living on. And she hates boats. When she divorced Lucas, she didn't want anything from the lying, cheating snake, but the judge told her she needed to get something, she took the one thing that meant the most to him - the boat. She doesn't have the money to pay to dock it, so she's been sneaking around the lake, tying up at isolated or vacant properties. Then she discovers that this one isn't vacant any longer.

I liked Jacob. He's realized that he was an idiot when he fought with his brother and allowed his pride to keep them apart. He loves his family, even though he hasn't been able to show it, except to his mother (which was a whole other issue). He has a really tough shell, thanks to his time in the military and the things he's seen, but he also has a pretty soft and vulnerable center. This is especially noticeable in his interactions with his family, when he finally goes to see them. It also shows in his relationship with Sophie.

I liked Sophie, too. She seemed kind of flaky at first, but I quickly realized that she's a lot stronger than she thinks she is. She had grown up with a father she was always trying to connect with, and when she couldn't she took her search for love elsewhere. She ended up marrying a selfish jerk who slept with any female he could, and who put her down constantly. I loved seeing her take her life back, including dealing with some of her ex's bimbos. She isn't looking for another shot at love, having given up on men altogether. Then she meets Jacob, who gets past her walls.

I loved the development of their relationship. The attraction between them is strong and it doesn't take long before they give in to it, but they tell themselves they're just in it for fun. Neither thinks they are capable of a real relationship. On top of the physical attraction, I loved seeing them develop a friendship. It was fun to see the banter between them, especially when Sophie lets her inner snark loose. She brings a fun and lightness to his life that has been missing for a long time. Jacob watches out for her, even when she doesn't want it, but also is there to back her up when she needs it. They both tried to resist the deepening of their feelings. Neither thinks they deserve that kind of happiness anymore. It isn't an easy journey, and both of them make mistakes along the way, but in the end they realize that they are much better together than they could ever be apart. The ending was really sweet, as Jacob's return when his tour was up showed his vulnerability where Sophie was concerned. The epilogue was a terrific wrap up.

The family relationships were also a huge part of the story, the biggest being Jacob's need to mend his with Hud and the others. Things went pretty smoothly with most of them, though each had their own way of letting Jacob know what an idiot he had been. The sweetest and feistiest was his reunion with his sister Kenna, who also had no trouble laying a big guilt trip on him. The hardest was trying to mend fences with Hud. In the previous book we had seen how worried Hud was about Jacob's safety, and his own guilty feelings about their split. Jacob completely blames himself, but has trouble finding a way to get through to Hud, who isn't very cooperative. I liked seeing how Sophie helped bring them together, though the final effort wasn't exactly intentional.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

My Kind of Wonderful - Jill Shalvis (Grand Central - Dec 2015)

Series: Cedar Ridge (Book 2)


UNEXPECTED AND UNDENIABLE . . .

Bailey Moore has an agenda: skiing in the Rockies, exploring castles in Europe, ballroom dancing in Argentina. Now that she has a second lease on life, she's determined not to miss a thing. What she doesn't realize is that item #1 comes with a six-foot-one ski god hot enough to melt a polar ice cap. She doesn't want to miss out on him either, but Hudson Kincaid isn't the type of guy to love and let go. And as gorgeous as Cedar Ridge is, she's not planning to stick around.

As head of ski patrol at his family's resort, Hud thinks he's seen it all. But never has he run into someone like Bailey. She might look delicate, but her attitude is all firecracker. And her infectious joy touches something deep within him that he's been missing far too long. Now he'll just have to convince Bailey to take a chance on her biggest adventure yet . . . something rare and all kinds of wonderful.

Fantastic book, with plenty of love and laughter. Hudson is one of five siblings/half-siblings, four of whom work together to run the family ski resort.  Hud is head of the ski patrol, also works a few shifts a month as a town cop, and takes care of his mother, who suffers from dementia. His plate is full to overflowing, leaving him little time or inclination for a relationship.

Bailey is a young woman with a desire to finally start living. She has been battling cancer for the last ten years, and is finally cancer free. She's ready to start doing all those things she could only dream about before. One of those things is to stretch her painting wings and paint a mural. Lucky for her, Hud's mother hires her to do just that.  Since the mural is at a ski resort, she'll also take the chance to improve her skiing.

Bailey and Hud meet when she misreads the map and ends up at the top of the resort's most challenging ski run. Not being stupid, she doesn't try to go down that way, but a broken binding leaves her unable to leave. Hud gets a call about a stranded skier, and comes to the rescue. I loved their first meeting, as Hudson is blown away by her beauty and the sheer joy he sees on her face as she takes in the view. Bailey is pretty taken herself by the "mountain hottie", but she has no time or inclination for a relationship. Their second meeting is a bit more contentious as he shoots down his mother's job offer. I loved seeing his siblings get involved, and suddenly Bailey's going to be there on the weekends for the next couple months.

There is no denying the attraction between them, and pretty soon they are indulging in a fling with an expiration date. That suits them both fine at the beginning, but it isn't long before feelings move well past the fling stage - even though both try to resist it. Hudson is protective of Bailey without being smothering. He is caring, sometimes sweet and always sexy, and has a terrific sense of fun. I loved seeing that fun extend to Bailey. But he can also be brooding, grumpy and stubborn. He takes a lot on himself, including responsibility for things that he isn't really to blame for. These guilty feelings hold him back from fully giving himself over to what is happening between him and Bailey. Bailey is quite the firecracker. She's stubborn and tenacious, which helped her get through her illness. It also helps her get through her occasional moments of insecurity.

I loved the development of their relationship. Bailey has spent so long not letting anyone get truly close that her feelings for Hud really snuck up on her. I loved how she saw the man underneath, who stayed busy as a way to avoid thinking about the things that haunted him. I ached for her when she thought her feelings were not returned. I loved seeing Bailey knock down the walls around his heart "one smile at a time". It was fun to see the effects she had on him, and how everyone could see it except him. I wanted to shake him when he made that stupid comment at the end, and pushed her away. The ending was great, with both of them seeing their mistakes, and Hudson doing an amazing job of both groveling and expressing his feelings. The epilogue was sweet and showed just how far they both have come.

As always, the secondary characters in a Shalvis book are a huge part of the story. Hudson's family is great. The back story of how they all came together was moving. I loved their interactions as they alternately squabble and support each other. I really enjoyed the teasing as they poked each other over their various relationships. I also loved the support as Gray and Aidan helped Hudson see the truth of his feelings for Bailey and get past his feelings of guilt over other things. I also loved the continuation of the practical joke that made its appearance in the first book, and just when it happened in this one. I loved Hudson's mother. She's an incredibly sweet woman with a surprisingly strong will. I ached for Hudson during the times when her memory slipped back in time, but thoroughly loved the tidbits she dropped about his childhood. When she was in the present she was very observant and willing to speak her mind.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Last Bride - Beverly Lewis (Bethany House - Apr 2014)

Series: Home to Hickory Hollow (Book 5)

Of her Old Order parents' five daughters, Tessie Miller is the last to marry. She has her heart set on Amishman Marcus King, but Tessie's father opposes the match.

Impetuously, Tessie and Marcus elope to the English world, then return to Hickory Hollow to live as singles, trusting they'll convince the Millers to give their love a chance over time. But when the unthinkable happens, Tessie faces the almost-certain censure of the People. Will she find a reason for hope in spite of her desperate plight?

Good book. Tessie and Marcus have been in love for a long time, but no matter what they do, they can't get Tessie's father to approve their courtship. After months of trying, the two secretly marry at the county courthouse, then return home to live as singles. Marcus continues to try to gain Ammon's approval. Meanwhile, they seize every opportunity they can to be together. After several more weeks, Marcus is ready to just announce their marriage and face the consequences, when he is killed in an accident. Tessie is devastated. Worse yet, she finds out she's pregnant, and without the marriage certificate she can't reveal her marriage.

I ached for Tessie throughout most of the book. First, to be denied marriage to the one she loved, to the point where they felt they must marry in secret. Then the following weeks of living apart, when all she wanted was to be a proper wife to Marcus. I completely understood her frustration. Then to have him die so tragically before they can reveal their marriage left her in a kind of limbo. She's a widow, even though no one knows it, and because of that they don't understand the depth of her grief. As she tries to go on with her life, she discovers that she's pregnant. She doesn't know what to do, so she hides her pregnancy as long as she can. Without proof of her marriage she is in danger of losing her status within the church. I was really worried for her and how things would go with the church elders. There was an interesting twist at the end that made a huge difference.

Added to the mix is the young man that Tessie's father wanted for her. He is still interested in Tessie and makes sure that she knows it. Because of her circumstances, she isn't too sure he knows what he'd be getting into. I really liked Levi. He was kind and patient with her uncertainty. I also liked his belief in her when she told him the whole story. He also had a very different personality than Marcus, one that I think was better suited to her anyway.

Also intertwined throughout the book was the story of Tessie's sister Mandy and her husband Sylvan. Mandy had followed her father's dictates and married his choice for her, even though she cared for another. At the beginning of the book she is unhappy in her marriage. Her husband is rather distant, they still haven't been able to conceive, and she needs something to distract her. A friend wants her to join in opening a shop selling Amish goods. This really appeals to Mandy, who sees it as a way to expand her world, but she's afraid that Sylvan won't approve. Over the course of the book, the slowly learn to communicate with each other, with Sylvan taking a surprisingly proactive approach. By the end, both have found unexpected happiness in their match.

There was an unexpected theme also, that of the problem of birth defects in the Amish community. Because there is so much intermarriage, the instances of serious genetic problems has been growing worse. Partway through the book, Tessie discovers that the reason her father was against her marriage to Marcus was that they are more closely related than is wise, opening them up to greater possibility of that happening to them. With her pregnancy, this adds even more stress, as Tessie worries about the future health of her baby.

I really liked the ending and seeing how things worked out for the various people in the book. I also enjoyed the occasional appearance/mention of characters from previous books. Ellie Mae, the wisewoman, is always interesting to spend time with. I also loved the mention of Katie Lapp, who was the first of Beverly Lewis's characters I read about, and who got me hooked on her as an author.