Thursday, October 19, 2017

Once a Soldier - Mary Jo Putney (Zebra - July 2016)

Series: Rogues Redeemed (Book 1)

As heir to a title and great wealth, Will Masterson should have stayed home and tended his responsibilities. Instead he went to war. Now, after perilous years fighting the French, he intends his current mission to be his last. But all his plans are forgotten when he arrives in the small mountain stronghold of San Gabriel and meets her.

Knowing herself to be too tall, strong, and unconventional to appeal to a man, Athena Markham has always gloried in her independence. But for the first time in her life, she finds a man who might be her match.

Two of a kind, too brave for their own good, Athena and Will vow to do whatever it takes to vanquish San Gabriel's enemies. For neither will back down from death, and only together can they find happiness and a love deeper than any they'd dared imagine. . .

Terrific start to the new series. The book begins with Will a prisoner along with five other men, awaiting execution by the French. Thanks to a bit of luck brought on by a thrown wine bottle, Will discovers a way for all six men to escape. Drawn together by their experience, they make a pact to stay in touch.

Five years later the war is finally over and Will looks forward to going home to England. Before he leaves, his commanding officer asks him to escort a group of soldiers from San Gabriel back home and to check on the conditions in the small country. Upon his arrival, he discovers a country heavily damaged but determined to recover. Their king and prince are missing, having been taken prisoner by the French, and the country is led by their young princess, Sofia, aided by her friend and companion, Athena.

I loved the meeting between Will and Athena, as he is held at gunpoint until she is sure he is not another marauding soldier. Will is immediately smitten by the tall and fiercely protective Athena. Athena is attracted to him, but thanks to her past feels she is too far beneath him for anything but friendship. I really enjoyed the development of their relationship. First comes a deep friendship, aided by their work to help the people of San Gabriel. I loved their ability to talk honestly with each other. The scene where they shared the trials of their pasts was fantastic. Learning of Athena's past does nothing to dim Will's determination to win her heart. The attraction between them heats up with the sharing of some pretty intense kisses. I loved Will's patience as he works to overcome Athena's fears. There were a few times I wanted to shake her for letting her mother's reputation keep her from accepting Will's love for her. The danger of their situation brings some clarity to Athena's thinking and their attraction moves ahead. Their HEA is artfully engineered by Princess Sofia when Will and Athena nearly lose each other, though Athena still has her doubts. There is a delightful twist at the end that finally ends her fears.

There is a secondary romance between Princess Sofia and Will's friend Justin Ballard. Justin has come to help Will with the rebuilding of San Gabriel. He and Sofia experience the lightning bolt of love at first sight, but know that nothing can come of it. Sofia is a princess and will be Queen if her father and brother are not found. Justin is a Scottish merchant with great wealth but no pedigree. I enjoyed seeing them get to know each other, deepening their feelings for each other yet accepting the reality of their circumstances. I couldn't wait to see how things were going to work out for them and I was not disappointed. It was especially fun to see Sofia take the lead in that scene.

The setting was a very important part of the whole story. I loved reading a Regency romance that did not take place in the ballrooms of London. Instead, we are treated to the Peninsula during and after the war. There is a realistic look at the ravages of the war upon the land and the people as we see how the people of San Gabriel coped with the devastation caused by the French. The descriptions of the land and the people were vivid, and I could easily picture them as I read. I could feel the hope blossoming after Will's arrival and the promise of the supplies they needed. The various repairs and projects were interesting and worked well to further the connections among the main characters. There was also the growing tension as Will felt the sense of impending danger. The scene by the river was fast-paced and exciting as Will, Athena, Sofia, and Justin faced down the French scouts. I loved seeing Sofia and Athena take the lead in a solution quite different than Will would have come up with. As Will discovers that his instincts were right, I was enthralled reading of their plans and preparations. The final confrontation was intense and felt realistic in the way it was portrayed, including the injuries. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Soldier's Rescue - Betina Krahn (HHW #199 - Sept 2017)

Series: Single Father (Book 33)

He has to find good in the world again…

Warmhearted Kate Everly is a veterinarian with a special love for dogs. But she's about to find out if her inner strength and unique "puppy whisperer" skills extend to healing wounded humans, too.

Florida state trooper Nick Stanton, a struggling single dad, is former military, and his army exploits led him to avoid dogs with a passion. Then a fateful rescue on a lonely back road brings the veteran and the veterinarian together over a gravely injured dog. Before long, Kate has her hands and heart full with a man coming to terms with his traumatic past…

Fantastic book. Kate is a veterinarian with a special affinity for dogs. We first see her with some puppies that have been dropped off at the shelter by an unknown person, setting the stage for later events. Her warmth and compassion for the animals she cares for is obvious. Her skills are needed when a state trooper arrives with a dog that had been hit by a car.

Nick came across the injured golden retriever while out on patrol. Standing guard over the golden was a German shepherd who was very protective. The injured dog resurrects some hard memories for Nick, but he does what he needs to do. I loved his gentleness with the golden and the way he handled the German shepherd. It was fun to see the way that he talked to the dog.

Nick and Kate's first encounter was awesome. I loved the teamwork as they worked together to treat the golden. There were also some definite sparks flying between the two of them. Kate is wary, having recently ended one relationship and feeling too busy with work to want another. Nick is busy raising his son and dealing with his memories from his time in Iraq. Thanks to a mutual desire to put an end to a puppy mill and a dog-fighting ring, and the enthusiasm of Nick's son Ben when it comes to dogs, Nick and Kate find themselves spending a lot of time together.

I loved the development of their relationship. It is a slow process of getting to know each and learning what makes them who they are. Nick especially has some serious issues to overcome. I loved Kate's sensitivity and compassion as Nick opens up about some truly heartbreaking things that happened to him. It was awesome to see how sharing the pain helped lighten the burden of those memories. I also loved the way that Nick was there to support Kate during the heartbreaking hours of the puppy mill rescue operation. There were some conflicts when Nick's protectiveness toward Ben ran up against Kate's more relaxed style. It was fantastic to see that they were able to talk things over without resorting to dramatics. I liked how they embraced their deepening feelings for each other as a crisis tested them both. Nick's plans for the future were a perfect complement to Kate's work. The epilogue was great and I loved catching up with both two- and four-footed characters.

The concurrent story of the puppy mill and dog-fighting ring was intense and heartbreaking. I loved the bravery of Miguel and Alejandro as they took steps to help as many pups as they could. The rescue scene was scary and heartwrenching as Nick faced down the old woman who owned the dogs. The descriptions of the conditions of the dogs made me want to cry. The situation became even more intense later, when young Miguel went missing. My heart was pounding as Nick and the others searched for him. The confrontation with the dog fighters was fierce with an unexpected hero saving the day.

The secondary characters were all wonderful. I loved Nick's son Ben. He is bright and enthusiastic, and an endearing mix of kid and adult. I really liked the closeness of the relationship between Ben and Nick. Kate's grandmother was quite a trip with her farm full of rescued animals and unconventional views on raising kids. My favorite of all was the German shepherd, Soldier. I loved the way he protected Goldie and continued to watch over her. What was especially moving was the way he connected with Nick. I loved the way that Soldier helped Nick break free of the chains his memories of Iraq had on him. At the same time, Nick's attention to Soldier gave the dog a purpose to live again. I loved seeing Soldier come through for Nick at the end. There was also a brief mention at the end involving Kate's brother, Jace, and her vet partner, Jess. I will keep my eyes open to see if there will be a story for them.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband - Julia Quinn (Avon - June 2017)

Series: Bridgerton Prequels/Rokesbys (Book 2)

While you were sleeping...

With her brother Thomas injured on the battlefront in the Colonies, orphaned Cecilia Harcourt has two unbearable choices: move in with a maiden aunt or marry a scheming cousin. Instead, she chooses option three and travels across the Atlantic, determined to nurse her brother back to health. But after a week of searching, she finds not her brother but his best friend, the handsome officer Edward Rokesby. He's unconscious and in desperate need of her care, and Cecilia vows that she will save this soldier's life, even if staying by his side means telling one little lie...

I told everyone I was your wife

When Edward comes to, he's more than a little confused. The blow to his head knocked out six months of his memory, but surely he would recall getting married. He knows who Cecilia Harcourt is even if he does not recall her face and with everyone calling her his wife, he decides it must be true, even though he'd always assumed he'd marry his neighbor back in England.

If only it were true...

Cecilia risks her entire future by giving herself completely to the man she loves. But when the truth comes out, Edward may have a few surprises of his own for the new Mrs. Rokesby.

Good book. Cecilia is alone in the world after her father's death, except for her brother, a Captain in the army who is posted in the Colonies, and a very unpleasant cousin. When she receives word that her brother has been injured and her cousin makes unwelcome advances, she takes ship for America to nurse Thomas back to health. Unfortunately, when she arrives, Thomas is missing, and no one can tell her anything about him. She does discover that Thomas's best friend, Edward Rokesby, is in the hospital in a coma. If she can't help Thomas, at least she can help his friend - except that the powers-that-be won't allow anyone but family into the hospital. Desperate to help, she declares that she is Edward's wife, not thinking what will happen when he wakes up and exposes her lie.

When Edward regains consciousness, he's very confused. First, he's missing a large chunk of his memories from the last several months. Second, he recognizes Cecilia as his friend's sister, thanks to a miniature that Thomas had, but he doesn't remember marrying her. But with everyone around him treating her as such, he allows himself to be convinced.

I enjoyed the development of Edward and Cecilia's relationship. They had already become friends thanks to a long-running correspondence through sharing Thomas's letters. I loved the excerpts from those letters included at the beginning of each chapter. Each one showed a little bit more of the progression of their friendship. With Edward's release from the hospital, they are thrown into constant contact with each other. They are brought closer by their shared concern for Thomas and their determination to discover what had happened to him. Proximity also brings out other things. Edward is attracted to the woman he believes he is married to, but can't do anything about it until he is more fully recovered. I also loved his protective streak, as he found himself wanting to save her from worry over her brother. It was also sweet to see his realization that he had started to love her through her letters and to get to know her had finished the job. Cecilia has a rougher time of it. There is no doubt in her mind about how deeply she cares for Edward, but she feels horribly guilty about the lies she has told. First, she worries that telling him the truth could cause a relapse. She also fears what will happen to her once she does. Then the lies keep building up, and she continues to put off telling him the truth. She knows she has to tell him before he regains his memory, but she just can't bring herself to do it. I ached for Edward when the truth came out, first for his sense of betrayal and then for his fear that she doesn't really care about him. Cecilia's love for Edward has her wanting what is best for him, which she feels is not her. She can't bring herself to tell him face-to-face and tries to escape on her own. Edward's big moment is romantic and amusing, thanks to Cecilia's cabinmate and the ship's captain. The epilogue was great and has me anxiously awaiting Andrew's story.

The concurrent story of Thomas's whereabouts and what led to Edward's injury and memory loss was interesting. Edward's frustration over being unable to remember what had happened to him was obvious and heartbreaking. I fully understood his anger with his commander once his memories did return. I ached for both Edward and Cecilia as they learned more about what had happened to Thomas. Thomas's letter to Edward just about broke my heart.

I loved the setting of the American Colonies during the Revolutionary War. It is a time period rarely used during historical romances which is too bad. It seems to me that there is great opportunity for some more unusual storylines.

Wicked Cowboy Charm - Carolyn Brown (Forever - Feb 2017)

Series: Lucky Penny Ranch (Book 4)

ONE BLIZZARD, ONE BUNKHOUSE, AND A WHOLE LOTTA TROUBLE . . .

Josie Dawson is new in town, but it doesn't take a local to know that Deke Sullivan is trouble--in a smokin' hot package. He's sweet, sexy, and has charmed just about every woman in Dry Creek, Texas. Well, Josie won't be next. She'll keep her distance, even if he is great with babies and makes a mean cup of homemade hot chocolate.

Deke Sullivan really is a one-woman type of guy. He just had to do a lot of looking to find that one woman. Now he thinks he's found her and he won't let a strong, sassy gal like Josie slip away. Just when he's wondering how to convince her he only has eyes for her, they get stranded in a tiny cabin during a major blizzard. If Deke can melt her heart before they dig out of the snow, he'll be the luckiest cowboy in Texas . . .

I have been looking forward to Deke's story since he first appeared in Wild Cowboy Ways. He is a smooth-talking charmer of a man with a well-earned reputation as a ladies' man. He's known for his weekend antics, but no woman has been able to tempt him into more. He finds himself rather envious of the happiness his friends have found and wonders if there is someone out there for him, but is wary of picking the wrong one.

Josie Dawson is Jud's younger sister and partner in their fledgling oil business (Merry Cowboy Christmas). She is tall, blond, and independent. She has come to Dry Creek to set up oil drilling on the Lucky Penny and look for a ranch of her own for the rodeo stock she wants to acquire. She recently ended a relationship and had no plans to get involved in another one and figures she'll be too busy working anyway.

Fate has plans for Deke and Josie. One look at each other over a couple of bags of goat feed has the sparks flying, but there are obstacles. Josie is kin to his best friends, and there are rules about that type of thing. Getting involved with her could create a whole host of problems. For Josie, she has been warned about Deke and his reputation. She's been burned once by a man who couldn't stick with one woman; she wasn't about to go down that road again.

I loved the development of Josie and Deke's relationship. From the moment they met there is a connection. Because Deke has always been like a member of the Logan sisters' family, that relationship has continued and included their Dawson husbands. There are some good scenes early on where Josie gives as good as she gets when Deke's teasing gets going. She also can't deny the attraction she feels, though she does her best to ignore it.  Deke and Josie discover that they're both headed to Montana to look at bulls for their ranches, though Josie is relieved to know that they are headed to different parts of the state. Mother Nature throws a kink in Josie's plans when a winter storm cancels her sale, so she asks around for another one she can go to instead. Sure enough, she finds herself at the same ranch as Deke, where they both get snowed in.

I loved this week with Deke, Josie, Deke's dog Rascal, and ranch owner Emmett. Emmett is a real character of a man with a pretty wicked sense of humor. Deke and Josie end up sharing a very small bunkhouse, giving them the opportunity to really get to know each other. I loved seeing a real friendship grow over the sharing of ranch chores, meals, and long hours of not much to do but talk. There is a really sweet scene where Deke's cowboy gentleman comes out as he saves Josie from a vicious spider without even a hint of laughing at her. There is also a proposition from their host that will give Deke and Josie an unexpected boost in their individual ranch plans and bring them even closer together. Simmering under all that friendship and business talk is an attraction that just keeps getting stronger. By the time they head back to Texas, together this time, neither can deny the heat. Their trip home is filled with further adventures, from trying to outrun more storms to delivering a baby.

By this time Deke knows that he has finally met the one that could make his dreams come true. The problem is trying to convince Josie of that fact. Things look pretty good until a bit of Deke's past makes her wonder if she's made another mistake. Deke is left having to work for the attention of the woman he wants. I have to say that he came through with flying colors thanks to the dates he came up with. My favorite was the first one, with the hints that led up to it and the thought he put into it. The second showed just how much he had changed, and the third was just plain smoking. I loved the reactions when he was seen sharing a hymnal at church, and walking out of the service together. Deke's big moment right before Valentine's Day was sweet and romantic.

The couples from the previous books make appearances, but my favorite secondary characters were Emmett and Martha. He is sweet, a little bit lonely, and a lot of fun.  It was so wonderful to see how quickly he became a friend to Deke and Josie. I loved his stories about his late wife and his current lady friend, Martha. His proposal to Deke and Josie about the bulls and his future was incredible. The fun really picked up when Martha arrived. Her sense of humor was even more wicked than Emmett's. She and Josie had some hilarious conversations, especially over some apple pie moonshine. I loved Martha's reaction to Emmett's plans and what she did about it. I loved the decisions they made after visiting Dry Creek and would love to see more of them. Another fun character was Deke's dog, Rascal. He was described so well that I could picture him easily. I really loved the descriptions of his reactions to the snow in Montana, and the way he kissed up to Emmett. "His" gift to Emmett when Deke and Josie and he were ready to leave was adorable.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Merry Cowboy Christmas - Carolyn Brown (Forever - Sept 2016)

Series: Lucky Penny Ranch (Book 3)

THIS CHRISTMAS, SANTA'S WEARING A STETSON
Tis the night before Christmas and all through the house is the presence of one wickedly hot cowboy who's come to stay for the holiday. Fiona Logan is downright shocked to return to her childhood home and find that the tall blond stranger who came to her rescue on an icy road will be sleeping just across the hall from her bedroom. Talk about temptation . . .

Jud Dawson never believed the Lucky Penny Ranch would live up to its name until now. Fiona is gorgeous, smart, funny, and everything he thought he'd never find. Now all he has to do is convince her to stick around town instead of hightailing it back to Houston. But with wild weather, nosy neighbors, and a new baby in the family, getting her to admit that she's falling in love might just take a Christmas miracle.

Good book. The third in the series, this one is about Jud Dawson, cousin to Blake and Toby, and co-owner of the Lucky Penny Ranch. He is the last to move to the ranch as he had a previous job commitment to finish. He's looking forward to putting down roots and building a place for future generations of Dawsons. All he needs now is to find the right woman to have everything he wants. I really liked Jud. He's easygoing, sweet, and hardworking. I loved the way that he could see the fun in almost any situation.

Fiona is the third of the Logan sisters and the one who flew the nest the furthest. Now she is back in Dry Creek, but not entirely by her choice. She isn't looking forward to telling her family about her failed marriage and the loss of her career but after a year of barely making ends meet she is at the end of her rope. She has come home to regroup and reconnect with her family before looking for another job in a city. She is smart, sassy, and has a bit of that red-headed temper going for her.

I loved the development of their relationship. From the moment he and Fiona met, Jud was pretty much a goner. But instead of a full frontal assault, Jud takes things slowly. I loved seeing them develop a good friendship first. From late night talks over leftovers or cookies and milk to conspiring to rehabilitate the grouchy couple who created such trouble in the previous books, Jud and Fiona slowly get to know each other. I loved the way that Jud really understood Fiona. She has never felt like she really fit in her family or the town, but came to realize that the city wasn't right for her. With a little bit of experience under her belt, she discovers that home is much more important to her than she had thought. I loved watching her settle into life in Dry Creek. The relationship between Fiona and Jud also began to heat up, and both realized that there was something deeper growing between them. But when Fiona is offered the chance to go back to the city, she has a decision to make. Give up her new life in Dry Creek and fly away, or put down those roots she hadn't realized she wanted? I loved Jud's support of whatever decision she made and how it helped her see the truth. I loved the ending and how everything came together for them.

I loved seeing more of the previous couples and the scenes with baby Audrey were adorable. There was an interesting minor thread dealing with Jud's plans to look for oil on the Lucky Penny and the possible involvement of his sister Josie. It made a nice lead into the next book. But the most unexpected and fun was the big part that Truman and Dora June O'Dell played. The two of them had caused a lot of trouble in the previous books with their negative attitudes. In this book, their house burned down, and Fiona's mother invited Truman and Dora June to stay with them. The young people are horrified but obey Katy's "love your neighbor" directive. It doesn't take too long for them to see a different side to Dora June and I loved seeing her quickly make a place for herself. Truman was a harder nut to crack. It was hilarious to see Jud take him on as a project, and his methods were ingenious. The Santa Claus thing was a riot. Truman's Christmas gift to Dora June showed just how much he'd changed.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Best of My Love - Susan Mallery (HQN - May 2016)

Series: Fool's Gold CA (Book 20)

To overcome her painful past, baker Shelby Gilmore goes on the hunt for a friend -- a male friend -- to convince her stubborn psyche that men can be trusted. But where in a town as small as Fool's Gold will the petite blonde find a guy willing to not date her?

Dark, charming Aidan Mitchell puts the "adventure" in Mitchell Adventure Tours…and into the beds of his many willing female tourists. Until he realizes he's inadvertently become that guy -- the one-night Casanova -- and worse, everyone in town knows it. Maybe Shelby's boy/girl experiment will help him see women as more than just conquests so he can change his ways and win back his self-respect.

As Aidan and Shelby explore the secret lives of men and women, the heat between them fires up the Fool's Gold rumor mill. If no one believes they're just friends, maybe they should give the gossips something to really talk about!

Fantastic book. This may be my favorite out of the series because it was emotional, fun, and definitely different than the others. Aidan and Shelby are two people who are determined to make changes in their lives. Aidan is a good-looking charmer of a guy, with a reputation as a ladies' man. Then he is confronted with the realization that he doesn't like the man he has become. He's determined to avoid women for a while until he can find a way to earn back his self-respect. Shelby is an attractive young woman who really wants what her friends have - a man to love and a family of her own. But an abusive childhood has left her unable to trust men, which makes finding that happy future more difficult. Shelby decides that what she needs is a man she can be friends with and who can show her that men can be trusted.

I loved the way the book started, with Aidan suffering from a hangover and regrets. It is easy to see his pain, both physical and mental. He wasn't in the best shape to deal with Shelby's questions and comments, which left him confused about her reasons. I loved her arrival a few days later to put an unusual idea in front of him. She proposes that they become friends for the next six months. Just friends, no sex. Instead, they will hang out together, giving them a chance to get to know each other. Shelby will learn to trust that he won't hurt her, and Aidan will learn to see women as something other than bedmates.

The idea is pretty simple. They will hang out together, taking turns doing "girl things" or "boy things." This will give each of them a peek into the other's world and hopefully expand their understanding. There was so much opportunity for fun here and the book totally delivered on it. Shelby introduced Aidan to lunches with the girls at Jo's, baby showers, and - gasp! - pedicures and talking about feelings. Aidan shared outdoor excursions, poker with the boys, and pool. I admit to laughing out loud during the trip to the shelter and Aidan's search for a "manly" dog and ending up with Charlie. One thing that is supposed to be completely off the table is the idea of being anything more than friends. Letting sex or romantic feelings intrude would interfere with their goal. Of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and both of them find moments of attraction creeping into their get-togethers.

I really enjoyed the development of their relationship. Things started out a bit awkward as neither is used to encounters with the opposite sex not having the potential for more. There was a lot of teasing as they became more comfortable with each other and seemed to delight in pushing the envelope of gender events. In the midst of all the fun, there were also moments of seriousness as each opened up about the events that have led to their issues. I loved the support they each provided as they dealt with those issues. As the weeks went on and their friendship deepened neither was willing to admit that there was something more going on. Strangely enough, it was Aidan who realized it first, and I loved watching him come to terms with the idea. Shelby resisted hard, insisting to herself and others that it was just friendship, even after they had added "with benefits" to the description. When she could no longer deny the truth, she panicked and pushed Aidan away. In previous books, when there was a breakup, the ladies would descend on the wronged woman and commiserate. This book continued its turnabout with an unexpected twist in the process that was a riot to read. I loved Aidan's patience as Shelby worked through her fears, and the kick in the pants that Shelby received from her friend Madeline. The ending was sweet and romantic and perfect for the two of them.

There were also plenty of other things going on in our characters' lives. Shelby has her work in the bakery she co-owns with Amber. She has many ideas of ways to expand the business, but Amber isn't always as enthusiastic. It turns out that there is more going on there than Shelby knows until Amber hits her with an unexpected offer. I loved all the support and encouragement that Shelby received, not just from Aidan but from so many people. Meanwhile, Aidan is dealing with family issues, stemming from his father's actions. I really liked his relationship with his brother Nick and how his support eventually helps Nick take control of his life. I ached for both of them as they finally accepted the truth of what had to be done. It's a nice lead-in to the new series, and I can't wait to read the stories of the three other Mitchell brothers.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Sheik Defense - Ryshia Kennie (HI #1724 - July 2017)

Series: Desert Justice (Book 4)

He's the one she can't remember, she's the one he can't forget…

Tossed overboard, Ava Adams had been left for dead, drifting at sea. But security specialist Faisal Al-Nassar was determined to find her. He owed her father a great debt and had never forgotten the connection he and Ava had once shared. Yet after rescuing Ava he discovered she barely remembered him.

Amnesia had left Ava uncertain of who had tried to kill her. She did know, however, that Faisal was a man she could trust. The sheik's embrace was familiar and enticing…and possibly even more dangerous. How could she succumb to feelings for her protector when what she didn't know could get them both killed?

Good book with some intense suspense and a touch of romance. Ava has accompanied her father on a yachting vacation before heading off to start her new job. She doesn't expect to be awakened one night by the sounds of a fight on the deck. She discovered her father fighting off an attack by a business associate. To protect her, her father forces her into a life raft and off the boat just before the bad guy, Ben, renews his attack on Dan. Terrified for her father, Ava drifts at sea.

Faisal and his family are longtime friends of Dan and Ava. Faisal was scheduled to have a meeting with Dan, and when the yacht goes off the radar, Faisal is notified. His family runs an international security firm, and Faisal immediately sets out to find both Dan and Ava. I loved the intensity of Faisal's determination and could feel his need to find them both.

When Ava is rescued, her condition is grave, and in her delirium the things she says give Faisal cause to worry for her safety. As she begins to recover, her memories of what happened are sketchy, but she knows that there is something very wrong. As her memories begin to return, instead of doing as her father said and confiding fully in Faisal, Ava sets out on her own to discover the truth. This leaves Faisal playing catchup, trying to find Ava before Ben finds her first.

I definitely wanted to shake Ava at times. She was very smart and determined, but also rather naïve about her ability to handle this trouble by herself. By the time she realized her mistake, it was almost too late. I really liked Faisal throughout the book. He remains calm and in control most of the time, though the occasional moment of desperation does pop up.

The suspense starts out intense with the fight on the yacht and the search for Ava and Dan. The intensity decreases somewhat as Ava recovers and then makes her way to Texas. It then ratchets back up as Ava, Faisal and Ben all converge on the tiny town. Brief segments told from Ben's point of view show just how much danger Ava is in. The final confrontation had me on the edge of my seat until it was resolved.

There wasn't a whole lot to their relationship until near the end. Both Faisal and Ava remember their past with both fondness and regret. It was sweet to see how Faisal looks back and realizes that he was too young to appreciate what he could have had with Ava. Meanwhile, she remembers her youthful crush on him and is wary of believing that what she feels now is more. I loved seeing them take some time at the end to get to know each other again. Faisal's big moment at the end was sweet and romantic.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dark Horse - B.J. Daniels (HI #1725 - Aug 2017)

Series: Whitehorse Montana: The McGraw Kidnapping (Book 1)

Burdened by family secrets, this cowboy rides alone

For twenty-five years, the case of the McGraw twins kidnapping has remained unsolved. As the eldest son, Cull oversees the McGraw horse ranch, wary of prying eyes. So when true-crime writer Nikki St. James comes forward with new information, Cull can't believe his father invites her onto the compound. His family has suffered enough -- he's not about to let St. James snoop and ruin them completely. But Nikki finds the eldest McGraw's protectiveness as endearing as it is aggravating. After all, this case is personal to her, too… And her secrets can set the truth free -- if they don't destroy the McGraws first.

Good beginning to the new series. Nikki is a true crime writer who has picked a twenty-five-year-old kidnapping case as the subject of her next book. She has contacted Travers McGraw, patriarch of the family, and received his blessing and an invitation to stay at the ranch and interview anyone she wants. What she hasn't told anyone about is her personal connection to the case. Her father was one of the accused kidnappers, and she wants to find the information that will clear his name.

Cull is Travers McGraw's oldest son. He was a child when his infant brother and sister were kidnapped, but it still haunts him today. He is protective of his father and the rest of the family and resents the attention they still receive because of the disappearance. The upcoming twenty-fifth anniversary is expected to be even worse. He isn't happy about Nikki's presence, fearing that whatever she stirs up will be detrimental to Travers' already shaky health.

The suspense of the story is really good. Nikki has a good track record of being able to unearth previously unknown information about cases. I liked that she doesn't just depend on police and newspaper reports, instead going back to the sources. I loved seeing how she was able to pull unrealized memories from various people. I especially enjoyed her conversations with the brothers and her compassion and sensitivity as she questioned them. Nikki also has good instincts, and through her eyes, several people move up the suspect list. It's obvious that someone doesn't want Nikki digging into the past when she is attacked along a deserted road. There are several twists and turns leading to a couple of surprise revelations. One deserving person gets what is coming to them thanks to Nikki's work. Some new information about the kidnapping is uncovered, resolving some questions but leaving others unanswered. I'm looking forward to the other books and getting the rest of the story.

The development of the relationship between Nikki and Cull doesn't take up much of the story. Though Cull is initially antagonistic to her, he can't deny that he is also attracted. Though protective of his family, he can't help but admire her determination. I liked seeing him warm up to her as he sees how much she cares about finding the truth. Nikki is just as attracted to Cull. Though each suspect that their feelings are growing deeper than expected, neither is willing to take the risk of bringing them out into the open. I loved seeing Cull's two brothers gang up on him to get him to see the truth and do something about it. The ending was pretty sweet, and I'm looking forward to seeing them in later books.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Baby Favor - Andrea Laurence (HD #2527 - July 2017)

Series: Billionaires and Babies (Book 83)

For the baby's sake…

Scarlet and Mason Spencer's marriage was once hotter than a summer heat wave. But their failed attempts to start a family chilled their passion. Now on the verge of divorce, Mason's single-parent brother is dying, leaving his baby girl in Mason's care…and pulling Scarlet into a ruse that she's still the billionaire's happy, loving wife…

Pretending to be a family so Mason's brother's final days will be peaceful starts feeling like the real thing -- as does the combustible chemistry she finds in her sexy soon-to-be-ex husband's bed. Will Scarlet's baby favor lead to a reunion…and the family they've always wanted?

Good second chance story for a couple torn apart by infertility issues and pride. Scarlet and Mason had had a terrific marriage until the stresses of starting a family became too much for them. Just weeks away from divorce, Mason has come to Scarlet for help. His sister-in-law has died in a crash, and his brother is dying, leaving Mason to care for their baby girl. Jay doesn't know about the impending divorce, so Mason wants Scarlet to pretend everything is fine for Jay's final days.

This was an emotional roller coaster of a book. Scarlet has finally begun to adjust to Mason's absence and the end of their marriage. She had been blindsided by Mason's request for a divorce. She hasn't stopped loving him. Scarlet still hurts over the loss of the baby they'd adopted, whose birth mother decided she wanted him back. When Mason asks for her help, she is reluctant because she doesn't want to go through the pain of losing him again after the charade is over. She is also determined not to let herself get attached to baby Luna. I completely understood Scarlet's viewpoint. She had been through a lot and was simply trying to protect herself. I also knew that there was no way she was going to be able to resist Luna. I ached for her as she confronted her memories in the nursery and smiled as she overcame them.

Mason frustrated me for a good part of the book. Thanks to the unreasonable expectations of his father, Mason grew up expecting perfection of himself. When things aren’t going the way he expects them to; he tends to cut his losses and move on. While this may work in his business, in his personal life it has been a disaster. Mason blames himself for their lack of a family, decided that Scarlet would be better off without him, and asked for a divorce, all without actually talking to her to see what she wanted.

From the moment Mason and Luna moved in it was obvious that his and Scarlet's feelings for each other were as strong as ever, but so were their fears. Scarlet tried desperately to keep both Mason and Luna at a distance, but it was a losing battle. It didn't take long before both Scarlet and Mason started feeling hopeful about the future, but a part of each of them was also wary. Scarlet feared that if things got rough again, he would revert to his cut and run ways. I liked the way that she confronted Mason early on and explained her problem with him. Though he promised he wouldn't do it again, Scarlet had trouble trusting him. Mason still has bouts of self-doubt and can't believe that Scarlet will really be happy with him. Things are looking very promising for them until Jay's death. Mason has a hard time dealing with the loss of his brother and the guilty feelings brought on by what he sees as his happiness at his brother's expense and withdraws into himself. With Scarlet's fears of history repeating itself it doesn't take much to push her over the edge to a confrontation with Mason. I ached for the misery that they inflicted on themselves. I loved that it was hearing Jay's voice in a dream that finally pushed Mason into realizing the truth: "Climb down from the cross, Mason. We don't need another martyr in this family." I loved his big moment at the end and the way that he showed Scarlet the depth of his feelings. The epilogue had an unexpected and heartwarming twist to it.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Most Dangerous Duke in London - Madeline Hunter (Zebra - June 2017)

Series: Decadent Dukes Society (Book 1)

NOTORIOUS NOBLEMAN SEEKS REVENGE
Name and title: Adam Penrose, Duke of Stratton.
Affiliation: London’s elite Society of Decadent Dukes.
Family history: Scandalous.
Personality traits: Dark and brooding, with a thirst for revenge.
Ideal romantic partner: A woman of means, with beauty and brains, willing to live with reckless abandon.
Desire: Clara Cheswick, gorgeous daughter of his family’s sworn enemy.

FAINT OF HEART NEED NOT APPLY
Clara may be the woman Adam wants, but there’s one problem: she’s far more interested in publishing her women’s journal than getting married -- especially to a man said to be dead-set on vengeance. Though, with her nose for a story, Clara wonders if his desire for justice is sincere -- along with his incredibly unnerving intention to be her husband. If her weak-kneed response to his kiss is any indication, falling for Adam clearly comes with a cost. But who knew courting danger could be such exhilarating fun?

Good book about a man bent on revenge and a woman determined to keep her independence. Adam has spent the last five years in France, where he took his mother to escape the ugly rumors of treason after his father's suicide. While there, he gained quite a reputation for engaging in several duels over his father's honor. Now he is back, determined to find the truth, clear his father's name, and exact revenge on those responsible. He's pretty sure that the Earl of Marwood, neighbor and long-time family enemy was the one who started the rumors and kept them going.

Adam is more than a little surprised when the Dowager Countess invites him to call on her and the new Earl. He's astounded when she proposes ending the long-standing feud in the time-honored tradition of marriage. She offers Adam, the hand of her youngest granddaughter, Emilia. Besides the fact that he feels she is way too young for him, he suspects the Dowager has ulterior motives. However, his first sight of eldest granddaughter Clara piques his interest.

Clara was the only child of the Earl's first marriage, and she was his favorite. They spent much time together, with him treating Clara more as a son than a daughter. On his death, he left her property and income enough for her to be independent, which suits her just fine. Clara uses her wealth to secretly publish a women's magazine and is quite adamant that she has no plans to marry.

I loved the first meeting between Clara and Adam. He is attracted and intrigued, and she wants nothing to do with him. He initially plans to court her in an attempt to discover what she knows about her father's involvement against his father, but it doesn't take long for him to want Clara for herself. Adam is quite determined to have her, and Clara is equally determined to retain her independence. I loved seeing Adam find ways to spend time with Clara that she can't avoid. He is quite devious at times, and it begins to pay off as Clara discovers that there is more to him than his reputation. I really liked the way that he appreciates her intelligence and wit. Clara is unaccustomed to such a thing, and it isn't long before they have developed a pretty solid friendship. Adam is still determined to marry her and turns up the heat on the attraction that simmers between them. Clara is still determined to retain her independence but considers entering into an affair with him. What they have together is more intense than either expects, cementing Adam's resolve and causing Clara to reconsider her opinion. I loved that they have honest conversations between their bouts of lovemaking, with Adam forthright about his motivations and Clara about her fears regarding marriage. The question comes down to whether the truth about Adam's father will tear them apart or bring them together.

I enjoyed the mystery behind his father's death. I ached for Adam who had been the one to find him, and who resented those who made his mother's life so miserable. I completely understood his desire to find the truth, no matter what it took. It was interesting to see the reactions of various people to Adam's presence back in England, with the scene at the race being especially intense. There was one person I suspected knew more than they were telling. An unexpected twist exposed the truth, and I loved how it all worked out.

The secondary characters were an intricate part of the story. Topping the list were Adam's friends Langford and Brentworth. I loved the strength of the friendship among the three men. Even after five years apart, they were able to pick right up as if they'd never been separated. I loved their support of Adam in whatever he needed. A garden party put on by a bachelor duke? Of course. Advice on women? Gladly. I'm looking forward to seeing those two get their stories. Clara's family was also vividly drawn. Her brother was obviously young and without the experience to deal with his older sister. Emilia was sweet and loved her sister. The Dowager was flat out scary at times, and I was truly impressed by Clara's ability to stand up to her. I liked Clara's friend and partner, Althea, and loved the way that she helped Clara with her rendezvous with Adam. I'd liked to see her get a happy ending of her own. I also loved the blunt Lady Farnworth. She was especially awesome when she stood up to the Dowager.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Devil and the Deep - Julie Ann Walker (Sourcebooks Casablanca - July 2016)

Series: Deep Six (Book 2)

He knew he had to forget her
But when the woman who stole his heart is kidnapped
This former SEAL will do whatever it takes to steal her back

Maddy Powers's life revolves around cocktail parties, political fundraisers, and charity events-but she can't forget the daring former SEAL who came crashing into her life a few months ago...or the scorching kiss they shared before he disappeared into the deep blue sea.

Bran Pallidino carries a dark secret-one that forced him to push Maddy away. But when she's taken hostage during a trip to the Caribbean, the men of Deep Six Salvage embark on a dangerous mission to save Maddy. Passion boils in the sultry sea breeze...but what good is putting their hearts on the line if they don't survive the dawn?

Good book. This one centers on Maddy, who was a secondary character in Hell or High Water, and Bran, another member of the Deep Six team. There were obvious sparks between them previously, ending with a toe-curling kiss, but Bran doesn't follow up the way Maddy expects. Instead, there are three months of friendly email exchanges as Bran helps her through the aftermath of the previous events but ignores the signals she sends. Maddy decides to be a little more proactive and, using a field trip for some interns as an excuse, shows up on an island close to the team's dive site. She then invites Bran to talk to the girls about their treasure hunt.

Bran is in a quandary. There is nothing he'd like more than to spend more time with Maddy. But he also has some very personal reasons for avoiding the closeness he knows that she wants. Bran grew up with an abusive father and is convinced that he carries the same darkness in him. He refuses to put himself in a position where he could hurt someone he cares about. He's just about made up his mind to ignore her invitation when Mason and Alex get involved.

As it turns out, Bran, Mason, and Alex arrive at the island at just the right time. Maddy is at the center of a kidnapping plot, and she and her charges are held at gunpoint. I had to chuckle a bit at Maddy's reaction as it is happening again. Things get pretty intense as Bran and Mason come to the rescue, but it doesn't go quite as planned, with the three interns still in the hands of the kidnappers.

What follows is a good mix of action and romance. Bran, Maddy, and Mason must find a way to free the girls from the men holding them. Bran has his ideas, and none of them include Maddy, but she refuses to be left behind. There is a terrific scene of Maddy standing up to his protectiveness, with information that will give them a better chance of success and the need to help those she feels responsible for. As they whittle down the number of bad guys and regain possession of the girls, there are some moments of down time. Bran and Maddie take advantage of these times as their movie-quote-laced banter is interlaced with some serious conversation. Bran is determined to make it clear to Maddy that he isn't relationship material and she is just as determined to show him that he is. I ached for them both as Bran opens up about his past and Maddy sees just how deep his fears go. Maddy proposes the idea of friends with benefits as a way to get at least some of the closeness she wants with Bran. And though the scene was intense, I thought the timing was illogical, with them not knowing if there were more bad guys out there.

There are still a few more twists and turns before Maddy, and the others are truly safe. The final confrontation was not unexpected in how it happened. Even Bran and Mason can see the writing on the wall as the setup reminds them of what happened in the previous book. However expected, the fight is intense and deadly. I ached for Maddy when she found out who was behind the kidnapping attempts.

When it's all over, Bran does his usual escape and deny, but something has changed. I rather enjoyed his misery as he fully deserved it. It takes his friend Leo to snap him out of his self-pity by pointing out some things about all of them that Bran hadn't considered. I loved his "aha" moment as he realized the truth. His reunion with Maddy was sweet and romantic and exactly what you'd expect from them.

There was also a secondary story going on between Mason and Alex. The two of them have been antagonistic from the moment that Alex arrived on their island. It was fun to see the extremely untalkative Mason deal with the motormouth Alex. Under the antagonism are sparks of attraction that start to burn hotter the more time they spend together. Mason isn't happy about what he is starting to feel, while Alex wants to explore it. I'm looking forward to their story, which should be another good one.

We don't get much about the treasure hunt. The first and last chapters are flashbacks by the captain of the ship, and we learn a little more about the wreck and the treasure. In the present day, Alex continues to search the records for more information, while the others find the occasional artifact.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Hell or High Water - Julie Ann Walker (Sourcebooks Casablanca - July 2015)

Series: Deep Six (Book 1)

Only two things could make former Navy SEAL Leo Anderson return to the world of weapons and warfare. First, a capsule of chemical weapons lost on the ocean floor, and second, a plea for assistance from the one woman he can't seem to forget-CIA Agent Olivia Mortier.

Now, working together to race against the clock and a deadly terrorist faction, Leo and Olivia must find the missing capsule, all the while battling the intense desire burning between them. If they can survive, can their growing attraction become more than just a momentary flare?

Very good book with fast-paced, intense action and well-done relationship building. Leo and his five former SEAL teammates are well on their way to keeping their promise to a dead friend. During a mission gone wrong, he told them to get out while they still could and start living their lives. The six friends have banded together to search for a sunken treasure ship.

I loved Leo, formerly the team leader and still the man they all look to. He feels responsible for making sure their new venture is a success. I really liked the way that he listens to what everyone else has to say before making a decision. He's calm in a crisis, focused and intense when the situation calls for it. He is also facing his inability to get CIA agent Olivia off his mind.

I also really liked Olivia. She is strong, confident, and independent. She is a risk taker, which sometimes comes back to bite her in the butt, which is what has brought her to Leo's doorstep. She owns up to her mistakes and does what she can to fix them. She hasn't been able to forget Leo, either, and he is the one she thinks of when she needs help.

I really enjoyed the development of Leo and Olivia's relationship. They had gotten to know each other during a previous mission. The chemistry between them was intense, but they were unable to pursue it. They haven't seen each other since the terrible end to that mission until Olivia shows up on Leo's doorstep. The heat between them is just as strong as it was before, and neither quite realizes the truth of why right away. Neither has considered any long-term relationship before thanks to incompatible careers. I loved their interactions as Leo's protectiveness comes up against Olivia's independence. I liked the way that Leo knew when it was a lost cause and accepted that Olivia could hold her own. There are also a couple of funny scenes as their chemistry heats up, only to have interruption after interruption throw cold water on it. Leo is the first to realize the depth of his feelings for Olivia and has to figure out how to convince her to take a chance on them. I ached for Olivia because she wants Leo, but is carrying a secret and a load of guilt from their last mission together. This secret comes out at the worst possible time, and Olivia pushes Leo away. They are pulled further apart by the aftermath of their mission. Leo is determined not to give up on her, and what they could have together. I loved the ending and their big moment as Leo is finally able to break through the last of Olivia's walls. The scene on the beach was heartbreaking, but also sweet and romantic. I'm looking forward to seeing more of them both in later books.

The suspense of the story was great. It was fast-paced and intense. From Olivia's arrival to the final battle, most of it takes place over the course of about twenty-four hours. Our heroes have to deal with terrorists, a hijacked yacht, rocket launchers, sinking ships and underwater battles before their mission is done. I was frequently on the edge of my seat as I wondered how they were going to get out of their current situation.

As the first book in the series, there was a fair amount of time spent on the backstory leading up to the beginning. The flashbacks experienced by Leo and Olivia gave a vivid picture of the events that have affected them so deeply. I also enjoyed meeting each of the other SEALs and seeing how each of them fit into the team. Each one has a unique personality and quirks that add to the story. I especially loved Bran and his ability to jerk Leo's chain on a regular basis. Beyond that, the teamwork and connection among them all made the action scenes even more exciting. I also enjoyed getting to know Maddy. She was calm and cool during the whole hijacking scene. I also enjoyed seeing her stand up to the guys and match wits with Bran. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Police Protector - Elizabeth Heiter (HI #1728 - July 2017)

Series: Lawmen: Bullets and Brawn (Book 2)

She's become his whole world…and she's under fire 

Ever since forensics analyst Shaye Mallory survived a police-station shootout, Detective Cole Walker has felt personally responsible for her well-being. Then another shooter takes aim at Shaye. Cole decides the only thing he can do is stay right by her side until he finds the man who wants her dead. 

Cole knows that he must set aside his attraction to Shaye if he's going to do his job. But as the days -- and nights -- go on, it becomes harder and harder to resist his feelings. And, as danger moves ever closer to them both, Shaye realizes that her safety might cost her the life of the man she loves.

This book started with a bang (literally) and kept me hooked all the way through. A year earlier Shaye had gotten caught in the crossfire of a shootout at the police station. Afraid of it happening again, she quit her job in the digital forensics lab. Now she is back, determined to overcome the fears that kept her away from the job she loved. After a week on the job, she has just started to relax when she is shot at again. Cole is first on the scene to save her. Cole has a bad feeling about this shooting. It appears random, but his gut tells him otherwise. He will do everything in his power to keep Shaye safe until the shooter is caught.

I really enjoyed the mix of romance and suspense. Cole had fallen hard for Shaye as soon as he met her, and the attraction was mutual. It was sweet to read their backstory, as they built a solid friendship over "chance" encounters before and after work. Cole missed her over the months she was gone and was thrilled when she came back to her old job. His protectiveness takes over when Shaye is shot at.

I liked Cole. He is protective of those he cares about, such as Shaye and his brothers and partner. He is determined and doesn't give up even when the investigation hits dead ends. He also frustrated me at times because he has a bit of an inferiority complex. He knows he is good at his job, but his lack of a college education makes him feel that he isn't good enough for Shaye.

I also liked Shaye. She allowed her fears to hold her back for a little while, but then took steps to get her life back. I loved that she went back to her forensics job determined to make a difference. She starts out the book still a bit tentative and understandably freaks when she's shot at again. But she doesn't allow the fear to linger. I loved seeing her determination to be part of the investigation and her refusal to be held back.

I liked the development of their relationship. They were already friends, and that friendship had developed into more. It was obvious to those around them, and I enjoyed seeing his brothers and friends give Cole a hard time about not pursuing it. Shaye is well aware of her feelings but is a bit hesitant about pushing herself toward Cole. With Cole providing constant protection for Shaye, their increased time together provides ample opportunity for their attraction to grow. Cole fears that his feelings could be a distraction that could put Shaye in more danger, but resisting just isn't possible. Shaye has some fears of her own. She isn't sure if she can handle being with someone whose life is always in danger. She also feels that Cole doesn't deserve someone who is such a scaredy-cat as she thinks she is. It takes nearly losing each other to make them realize that being apart is much worse than learning to deal with their worries about being together. The epilogue was fantastic and showed the romantic side of Cole's nature.

The suspense was really good. I could feel Shaye's fear when the gunman was shooting at her and her relief when Cole arrived. The frustration that Cole and the others experienced over the lack of clues was obvious, as there were several possible suspects. I enjoyed following the leads with them and trying to decide who was the most likely to be the shooter. The final confrontation was intense, and I was on the edge of my seat wondering how they were going to get out of it. I was really impressed with Shaye's presence of mind as she tried to delay the killer.

I liked the secondary characters of Cole's partner, Luke, and his brothers, Andre and Marcos. I loved the way that they all provided any backup that Cole needed, from watching over Shaye to confronting gang leaders and witnesses. I also loved the closeness of the three "brothers of the heart." There was a little more about the fire that played a part in their youth, but not enough to answer all the questions. I expect that the next book will do so.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The CEO's Nanny Affair - Joss Wood (HD #2533 - Aug 2017)

Series: Ballantyne Billionaires (Book 3)
            Billionaires and Babies (Book 84)

Sexy single-dad billionaire meets temporary nanny…

When Tate Harper's sister disappears, the globe-trotting TV host is suddenly the caregiver for her infant niece. She has to find her sister ASAP! Enter single father and sexy CEO Linc Ballantyne, her sister's ex. He's a family man to the core, and he'll help Tate -- if she agrees to be his temporary live-in nanny.

Soon she's juggling a baby, a toddler and a growing attraction to the billionaire Ballantyne. But when it's time to go back to her real life, will she pack her bags or stay and find out what being a family really means?

A good book about two people afraid to risk their hearts after being hurt in the past. Tate is a well-known TV host, known for her stories from all over the world. On a break between shows, she is supposed to have lunch with her cousin turned adoptive sister, only to find that Kari sneaked out the back door when Tate came in the front, leaving her infant daughter behind. Suddenly Tate finds herself responsible for her niece, and she hasn't a clue what to do. The only message Kari left behind was for Tate to see Kari's ex-fiancé, Linc. Linc is not happy to have another Harper female turn up on his doorstep. Kari had deserted him shortly before their wedding, giving up all parental rights to their son Shaw. But he can't turn his back on little Ellie, so he agrees to help Tate for a while if she will fill in while he looks for a nanny.

I really liked Linc. Yes, he has the whole rich and handsome thing going on, but what got me was what a terrific father he is. He is loving, patient, and involved, and maybe a little overprotective. There are some really sweet scenes between him and Shaw. He also has great relationships with his mom and siblings, who are a terrific support system for him. The cupcake scene illustrates this. He's been hurt in the past, most deeply by Kari, who destroyed his trust in women and his belief that he'll find the old-fashioned kind of woman that he wants.

I liked Tate, too, but she also frustrated me. When Kari was a little girl, she and her mom moved in with Tate's family. Unfortunately, it put it strain on Tate's parents' marriage, and eventually, her dad left them. After that, it seemed that it was Kari's needs that took precedence in the family, especially after Kari's mother died. Kari was spoiled and selfish and manipulative, and Tate left home as soon as she could. For her own peace of mind, she spent as little time with them as possible. When Tate ends up with Ellie, she fully believes that she is not capable of caring for the little girl. Nor does she really want to. She's happy with her nomadic life and career where she doesn't have to get too close to anyone. But the more time she spends with the kids, the deeper the dig beneath her walls.

I liked the development of the relationship between Tate and Linc. They start out very adversarial. Linc makes no secret of his mistrust of Tate. He thinks she is just like Kari. Tate is angry at being measured by Kari's yardstick since she has worked hard to be nothing like her. Underneath it all is a simmering attraction. I enjoyed seeing Tate and Linc grow closer as their little group starts to feel like a family. Neither is very happy to realize that the attraction they've been indulging has turned to love, and each tries desperately to deny it. There are also obstacles to having that happy family. Tate doesn't know how she can be the mom she thinks Linc wants for Shaw and still have the career she loves, or if she's even capable of being a mother to the two children, thanks to her own family issues. Linc's trust issues are deep, and Tate being Kari's sister makes the trust even harder to come by.

An unexpected twist at the end creates a dilemma for Tate, one that sends her running after all. I ached for the pain she was in as she tried to make a decision. The conclusion was great, as a bit of much-needed communication helped create the best solution for all.

Family played a big part in the story. There were two types. The truly dysfunctional family that Tate had, that spent more time driving the members apart than bringing them together. It really hurt to see how badly Tate's needs were neglected while growing up. On the other side, Linc's family was loud, loving, and accepting. I loved the teasing that went on among them, especially as his siblings saw Linc falling for Tate. They were also there to support each other and could be called on at any time of day or night. I am looking forward to Sage's story, as I think there was a hint that it might be a doozy.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Winning the Mail-Order Bride - Lauri Robinson (HH #1343 - Sept 2017)

Series: Oak Grove (Book 2)

She was promised to another…

When widow Fiona Goldberg and her two adorable sons arrive in Oak Grove, Kansas, proclaimed bachelor Brett Blackwell is instantly captivated. But when he learns she is promised to the mayor, he tries his best to keep his distance…

Out of desperation, Fiona had agreed to become a mail-order bride to the disagreeable, self-important mayor. But something about her neighbor Brett makes her feel safe. She knows she must fight her growing feelings for the forbidden blacksmith, even while longing for him to rescue her and take her as his bride himself!

Good book. Oak Grove, Kansas, is a town with a need for women who are looking for husbands. Many of the men of the town got together and put money into an Oak Grove Betterment Committee, and the mayor wrote to a friend in Ohio advertising for wives. He promised twelve brides, but so far there have only been five arrive, leaving quite a few disappointed men.

Fiona is a recent widow with two young sons who has been living in Ohio. Thanks to the circumstances of her husband's death, she and her sons have been treated as outcasts. It is strongly suggested that she become one of the brides. The mayor personally invites Fiona to become his bride, bypassing the Betterment Committee. When she arrives in Oak Grove, the mayor quickly shuffles Fiona and her boys to a small house, telling them to stay there. The house is empty of everything except one small bed and has no food or provisions of any type. Fiona herself has no money to purchase these things.

Brett lives in the house next door to Fiona's. He is a successful businessman and one of the disappointed bridegrooms. He encounters Fiona's sons, Wyatt and Rhett, on his way back from fishing. Learning of their situation, he invites them and Fiona to eat with him. I loved Brett. He was one of seven boys growing up and immediately connects with both Wyatt and Rhett. He knows just how to talk to them and treat them.

There are so many emotions in this book. There is loneliness. Brett wants what the other men have found - love, friendship, passion, and a family of his own. Fiona has been alone in a way since even before her husband's death, thanks to his drinking and other problems. There is anger. The anger of the men who feel that they have been deceived, Brett's anger at the way Josiah treats Fiona, and Fiona's anger at Josiah over the way he treats her sons. There is also confusion, as Fiona is torn between keeping her word to Josiah and following the heart that increasingly leans toward Brett.

Most of all, there is love. I enjoyed the development of the relationship between Brett and Fiona. There is an attraction from the get-go, though both try to resist it. Both know that Fiona is promised to Josiah. But Brett can't deny that Fiona is everything that he has been looking for, and he quickly feels very protective of her and the boys. I loved how Brett took care of them, both with food and simply caring about their needs and wants. It was really sweet to see how quickly Wyatt and Rhett began to look up to Brett. Fiona quickly discovers that Brett is everything she could wish for in a husband. His kindness, generosity, and caring are a balm to her wounded soul.

But things look pretty bleak for a happy ending for them. Fiona is promised to Josiah and, having been the victim of broken promises, refuses to break her word to Josiah. I ached for her because it was obvious that Josiah is all wrong for her. Brett has a similar problem because, before he met Fiona, he had wired his mother that he was looking for a wife, and she had already found a woman for him. So both Fiona and Brett are honor-bound to other people. A life-threatening injury for Fiona and an unexpected twist in the other woman's arrival bring matters to a head. The solution to Brett's problem is quite clever, while Fiona's required her to put herself first.

The secondary characters were well done. Josiah, the mayor, was a character it was easy to dislike. He was pompous and had a very high opinion of himself. He was also a bit underhanded in his dealings with the men and with Fiona. He had selected Fiona for very selfish reasons, feeling that he needed a wife for his social and political well-being. His treatment of her and the boys showed a man who doesn't think of others before himself. He did redeem himself a little bit at the end, but I still found him to be very unpleasant. Fiona's sons Wyatt and Rhett were terrific. Wyatt was only seven, but he tried so hard to be the man of the house. Rhett, at five, was adorable, especially the way that he hero-worshipped Brett. I loved the various townspeople, especially the ladies that took care of Fiona. It was sweet to see the way that they all pulled Fiona into their lives, offering friendships like she'd never had before.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Summer Bride - Anne Gracie (Berkley - July 2016)

Series: Chance Sisters (Book 4)

Fiercely independent Daisy Chance has a dream -- and it doesn’t involve marriage or babies (or being under any man’s thumb). Raised in poverty, she has a passion -- and a talent -- for making beautiful clothes. Daisy aims to become the finest dressmaker in London.

Dashing Irishman Patrick Flynn is wealthy and ambitious, and has entered society to find an aristocratic bride. Instead, he finds himself growing increasingly attracted to the headstrong, clever and outspoken Daisy. She’s wrong in every way -- except the way she sets his heart racing.

However, when Flynn proposes marriage, Daisy refuses. She won't give up her hard-won independence. Besides, she doesn't want to join the fine ladies of society -- she wants to dress them. She might, however, consider becoming Flynn's secret mistress. . .

But Flynn wants a wife, not a mistress, and when Flynn sets his heart on something, nothing can stand in his way...

A wonderful conclusion to the series. I think Daisy was my favorite of the four "sisters." She is the only one who wasn't born a lady and makes no secret of her background. Rather than dreaming of marriage as her sisters do, Daisy's ambition is to be dressmaker to the stars, or "toffs" as she calls the London elite. It was great fun to see Daisy do her best to resist Lady Bea's attempts to turn her into a lady. She is quite blunt in reminding everyone that she isn't a lady and no amount of polish will turn her into one. She is stubborn to a fault, determined that nothing will derail her plans, especially not one Patrick Flynn, charming Irishman and business partner to her brothers-in-law.

Flynn is a self-made man. Like Daisy, he isn't well-born but has made his fortune through hard work. Now that he has reached that point, he's ready to settle down and start a family. He plans to make an advantageous marriage, and he has settled on the pretty daughter of an impoverished earl. Unfortunately for him, he discovers that it isn't that easy. The lady in question isn't all that enthusiastic, but he's better than her alternative. Flynn is a good man at heart, and I loved how he handled the issue. I also loved how comfortable he is with himself. He doesn't really care what others think of him, and I love how his waistcoats show a bit of that independence.

From the very beginning of the series, Daisy and Flynn have been friends. Because their backgrounds are similar, they find it very easy to talk to each other. Flynn doesn't laugh at her speech or mannerisms or scoff at her dream to own her own dress shop. Daisy doesn't object to his plans for marriage, but she does point out some things he hadn't considered. I loved their banter and the honesty with which they treat each other. It's easy to see how perfect they are for each other, but each suffers from tunnel vision that blinds them to it until a dare causes Flynn to kiss Daisy. Each of them reacts as if hit by lightning but with different results. Flynn realizes that the perfect woman for him has been right under his nose all along. He just needs to convince Daisy of that fact. Unfortunately for him, Daisy sees her reaction to Flynn as the death-knell to her dreams if she were to give in to him.

The development of their relationship was great fun to watch. Flynn is determined, and nothing is going to stand in the way of getting the wife he wants. His attempts at courtship were sweet and romantic. I really loved the flowers that he sent to her. He is incredibly patient and endearingly confused by her adamant resistance to his advances. Thanks to her past, Daisy doesn't trust easily. To her, marriage means the loss of independence and her plans for her future. But Daisy is nothing if not practical, and giving up on marriage doesn't mean giving up on passion. She rather shocks Flynn with her proposition, but he is quick to see the advantages. I loved how he uses that as another method of courtship, continuing to chip away at her defenses. Daisy doesn't go down easily, fighting her feelings to the very end. An unexpected complication creates a dilemma for Daisy, and Flynn's response is romantic and perfect.

As always, Lady Bea is a force to be reckoned with. I loved the battles between her and Daisy over Daisy's resistance to "lady lessons." Sometimes Daisy wins, sometimes Lady Bea wins, but the love between them is never in question. I also liked how Lady Bea treats Flynn the same as the other men and doesn't look down on him. She also is very good at keeping him in line if she wants to. There is a very emotional scene with her, Daisy and Flynn at the end. We don't see a lot of the other sisters in this book, but their appearances always showcase the closeness they all share. I also loved seeing more of Featherby, the butler, and his protectiveness toward all the ladies.