Friday, March 31, 2017

The Friends We Keep - Susan Mallery (Mira - Feb 2016)

Series: Mischief Bay (Book 2)

After five years as a stay-at-home mom, Gabby Schaefer can't wait to return to work. Oh, to use the bathroom in peace! No twins clamoring at the door, no husband barging in, no stepdaughter throwing a tantrum. But when her plans are derailed by some shocking news and her husband's crushing expectations, Gabby must fight for the right to have a life of her own.

Getting pregnant is easy for Hayley Batchelor. Staying pregnant is the hard part. Her husband is worried about the expensive fertility treatments and frantic about the threat to her health. But to Hayley, a woman who was born to be a mom should risk everything to fulfill her destiny -- no matter how high the cost.

Nicole Lord is still shell-shocked by a divorce that wasn't as painful as it should've been. Other than the son they share, her ex-husband left barely a ripple in her life. A great new guy tempts her to believe maybe the second time's the charm…but how can she trust herself to recognize true love?

As their bonds of friendship deepen against the beautiful backdrop of Mischief Bay, Gabby, Hayley and Nicole will rely on good food, good wine and especially each other to navigate life's toughest changes.

Good follow on to The Girls of Mischief Bay. Nicole was a major character in that book, with Hayley and Gabby being secondary ones. Now all three are facing new challenges in their lives and having good friends like each other is vital to getting through their days.

Nicole is adjusting to being a divorced single mother. It isn't as hard as she thought it would be, because Eric had left the marriage well before the divorce. She is still frustrated by Eric's lack of interest in being a father to their son, and her battle with this runs through the book. Her son Tyler's fascination with book character Brad the Dragon earns him a chance to meet the author. Nicole is not as thrilled as she has a preconceived idea of what he is like, thanks to her ex. The meeting between Jairus and Nicole was hilarious. There were definitely sparks between them, ones that Jairus wanted to pursue. Nicole is hesitant. She doesn't trust her judgment any longer, and is afraid that if she gets involved with him, Tyler will be the one to pay the price. Jairus is awesome with Tyler and with all the children he deals with, which helps soften her heart toward him. I loved Jairus's patience with her fears. He was sweet and romantic. He's also pretty good at cutting through the garbage, and finally makes his stand with her. I loved his big moment at the end.

Hayley is a woman who is determined to be a mother. Unfortunately, she can't stay pregnant. After her fifth miscarriage, her doctor is adamant that trying again would likely kill her. Hayley doesn't want to hear it or believe it because it would be the death of her dreams of having her own child. She has a rocky relationship with her sister. Hayley was adopted and Morgan wasn't. Hayley always felt that her sister came first in her parents' hearts, and it has affected the way that Hayley looks at adoption as an option. All of the attempts at having a baby have put a strain on her marriage, and her refusal to accept the doctor's pronouncement causes a rift between her and Rob. It isn't until she nearly dies that she starts to accept the reality. I loved that Rob was there to support her, and that his love for her was still strong. His leaving was his last ditch effort to get her to see the truth. I ached for him and his fear of losing her, and frequently wanted to tell Hayley to open her eyes and look past her own wants. The solution to their problem was really sweet.

Gabby has been married to Andrew for a while. They have five year old twins, plus Andrew's daughter from a previous marriage. Gabby has been a stay at home mom since the twins were born, but has been counting the days until they start school and she can work again. I understood her frustration, because, although he was a nice guy and really loved her, Andrew doesn't seem to respect that she has her own needs. She was frustrated by the way he never backed her up in regard to anything having to do with Makayla, and even undercut her with their twins. She constantly has to deal with the girl's attitude. When a situation came up dealing with Makayla and a boy, it was pretty satisfying to see that Gabby had been right all along. But once again, Andrew comes down on Makayla's side and expects Gabby to give up her plans and needs. I was frustrated with her at the beginning because she was something of a doormat. I really liked seeing her finally stand up to Andrew and his expectations. It took him way too long to see the truth, but when he did, he accepted his responsibility. Makayla was quite a brat, but she did some serious growing up by the end of the book.

I really liked how Nicole, Hayley and Gabby were able to listen to each other's problems. They could dish out honest advice, or just be a sounding board while the talker worked out their issues. I loved the epilogue and catching up with how things had worked out for each woman.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Always a Cowboy - Linda Lael Miller (HQN - Sept 2016)

Series Carsons of Mustang Creek (Book 2)

He's the middle of the three Carson brothers and is as stubborn as they come -- and he won't thank a beautiful stranger for getting in his way!

Drake Carson is the quintessential cowboy. In charge of the family ranch, he knows the realities of this life, its pleasures and heartbreaks. Lately, managing the wild stallions on his property is wearing him down. When an interfering so-called expert arrives and starts offering her opinion, Drake is wary, but he can't deny the longing -- and the challenge -- she stirs in him.

Luce Hale is researching how wild horses interact with ranch animals -- and with ranchers. The Carson matriarch invites her to stay with the family, which guarantees frequent encounters with Drake, her ruggedly handsome and decidedly unwelcoming son. Luce and Drake are at odds from the very beginning, especially when it comes to the rogue stallion who's stealing the ranch mares. But when Drake believes Luce is in danger, that changes everything -- for both of them.

Good book. Second in the Carson series, this book is about Drake, the middle brother. Older brother, Slater (Once a Rancher), is the producer of documentaries, and younger brother, Mace, is in charge of the family winery.  Drake runs the family ranch, which is just right for him. The land and its traditions are his life's blood. Not to say there aren't challenges to go along with it. For the past year they have been losing calves to a mountain lion, and there's a herd of wild horses whose stallion has been stealing Drake's mares. As icing on the cake, he finds a beautiful woman trespassing on his land.

Luce is a graduate student working on a paper about how wild horses interact with ranch animals and humans. Drake's mom, an old friend of Luce's mom, has invited Luce to stay at the ranch while she does her research. This puts her into Drake's path far too often for either's comfort, at least at the beginning.

I loved the first meeting between Drake and Luce. He sees that wild stallion close and is determined to catch him and move him away from the ranch and his mares. He doesn't catch him, but he does scare them off, bringing on the wrath of Luce, who has been observing them all day. I loved seeing her stand up to Drake and fuss at him. At the same time, he listened but wasn't overly receptive to her rants. But underneath the confrontation is a different kind of spark, the spark of attraction, which disturbs them both. They go head to head a few times over his resistance to cooperating with his research, and her insistence that she's well able to take care of herself out on the range. They eventually work out a compromise that has them spending time together, time that brings their simmering attraction to a full boil.

I really liked seeing the two of them get to know each other and learn to respect what the other does. Once they get past their initial antagonism, Drake's true personality really begins to shine. He is funny, charming, passionate, and just a bit old-fashioned. He was very protective, especially when the mountain lion got bolder. He pretty quickly realizes what it is he feels for Luce, and is determined in his pursuit of her. Luce knows what she's feeling, too, but she has her life planned out, and staying in rural Wyoming isn't part of it. I enjoyed the realism of seeing two people who loved each other work to figure out how to make things work between them. The wedding scene was sweet, and his honeymoon plans were super romantic.

As always, the secondary characters added extra depth to the story. My favorite was ranch foreman Red. He had some great cowboy sayings, and seems pretty ordinary, until you get to see a bit of his private life. I also loved Drake's mom and her not always subtle attempts to get him and Luce together. I liked seeing more of Slater, Grace and Ryder, and how they are settling in to life together. Ryder has a couple of good scenes with Drake and Luce, too. I enjoyed the teasing that Mace inflicts on his brothers, and that they aren't slow about returning the favor. Though they bicker and snipe, they are always first in line to support each other. I also liked seeing Lettie get involved in their wild horse problem. She is a force to be reckoned with. I'm looking forward to reading Mace's story.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

His Mail-Order Bride - Tatiana March (HH #1319 - Mar 2017)

Series: Fairfax Brides (Book 1)

A Wild West wedding!

Thomas Greenwood expected his mail-order bride to be plain and pregnant -- not a willow-slim beauty! She's clearly no practical farmer's wife, but she's his chance finally to have a loving family…

Runaway heiress Charlotte Fairfax fled the possibility of a forced marriage, yet now, assuming a stolen identity, she's wed to a stranger the moment she steps off the train! She plans to stay only until it's safe to leave. Except marriage to kindhearted Thomas is far more complicated -- and pleasurable -- than she ever imagined!

Good book. It opens with Charlotte and her sisters in Boston, realizing that Charlotte is in danger. Their unscrupulous cousin is determined to gain control of Charlotte's inheritance and is planning to force her to marry him. With her sisters' help, Charlotte escapes, but with little money and no idea how she'll survive until she's able to gain control herself. After a fright in New York City, she ends up on a westbound train, with no ticket, trying to dodge the conductor. When she finds the body of a young woman in the train's restroom, she takes her ticket and her identity, ending up in Gold Crossing, Arizona. There she is stunned to discover that she is supposed to be a pregnant mail-order bride for a local farmer. Thomas is expecting a plain, sturdy and pregnant woman, not the tiny beauty who gets off the train. She doesn't look anything like the photograph he was sent, but a wife he paid for and a wife he will have.

I enjoyed the development of their relationship. Though Charlotte plans to leave when the danger has passed, she is determined to be the best farm wife that she can. I loved seeing her enthusiasm and resolve. Though Thomas suspects she is hiding secrets of some kind, he is entranced by her beauty and her willingness to be part of his life. He is falling fast and hard for her, when the truth comes out. Hurt and angry at her deception, the marriage is annulled. Charlotte feels incredibly guilty and wants to find a way to make it right. I ached for her as every attempt she made was turned back. But as hurt as he is, Thomas is still protective of her, and can't stay away. There's a confrontation with a deranged miner, where he is injured helping her. More consequences of her deception land her in trouble with the townspeople, she discovers Thomas is in trouble, and she has decisions to make.

I liked both Charlotte and Thomas. Charlotte is smart, though perhaps a bit naïve in her belief that she can carry off her deception. I liked the way that she wanted to make things as easy as possible for Thomas. She had a great sense of humor and was able to laugh at herself and her mishaps. I really liked how she instinctively trusted him. It was sweet to see how she tried so hard to make up for her mistakes. Thomas was a sweetheart. He's a large man who suffered a miserable childhood, feeling unloved even by his mother. He was happy to accept a pregnant woman as a bride, looking forward to forming the kind of family he wanted and never had. I completely understood his hurt and anger at Charlotte's deception. As much as he claimed to want no part of her after the breakup, what he did for her sister showed that he still cared deeply. There were a few times I wanted to shake him for letting his pride hold him back. His big moment at the end was fantastic.

I'm looking forward to reading the sisters' stories.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Wicked Intentions - Elizabeth Hoyt (Grand Central - Aug 2010)

Series: Maiden Lane (Book 1)


Infamous for his wild, sensual needs, Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, is searching for a savage killer in St. Giles, London's most notorious slum. Widowed Temperance Dews knows St. Giles like the back of her hand-she's spent a lifetime caring for its inhabitants at the foundling home her family established. Now that home is at risk . . .


Caire makes a simple offer-in return for Temperance's help navigating the perilous alleys of St. Giles, he will introduce her to London's high society so that she can find a benefactor for the home. But Temperance may not be the innocent she seems, and what begins as cold calculation soon falls prey to a passion that neither can control-one that may well destroy them both.


Excellent book that drew me into its world from the very beginning. Temperance is a widow who runs a foundling home and school along with others of her family, in the slums of the St. Giles section of London. When the book opens, she is heading back to the Home with the newborn baby of a dead prostitute. She happens across Lord Caire, bent over the body of a man who had just attacked him. Later that evening, Lord Caire appears in her sitting room, with a proposition for her. If she will be his guide around St. Giles, he will endeavor to introduce her to members of society who could serve as patrons for the financially struggling Home.

I liked both Temperance and Caire. She is an independent woman who does what she feels is right, no matter what others say. She loves her family, and will do what she must to keep their Home running. She is also haunted by something in her past, an event that has caused her to ruthlessly protect herself from feeling things too deeply. She also has a passionate side that she keeps buried deep.

Caire is a man with a dark reputation, including his bedroom proclivities. Not only doesn't it bother him, he seems to take a fair amount of delight in it. He's cynical about his fellow man and seems to delight in scandalizing society. He is searching the slums of St. Giles, looking for the person who brutally murdered his mistress, not because he loved her, but to try to give her life some meaning. Caire is also haunted by his own issues, believing himself to be incapable of giving or receiving love, and physically unable to bear being touched.

Their chemistry is incredible from the very beginning. Temperance isn't happy about the attraction to him, as it only serves to prove to her that she has a wicked nature that needs to be controlled. Caire is much more willing to pursue the attraction he feels for her. He's very good at getting her worked up, and it isn't long before they are finding physical satisfaction together. Temperance is surprised to find that the more time she spends with him, the more she actually likes him. She also starts to see that there is a lonely, vulnerable man under the sordid reputation, just as Caire gets to know the passionate woman behind the do-gooder reputation that she has. That knowledge also comes at a price, and an exchange of heated words ends in unexpectedly hurt feelings. It looks like their chances of happiness together have been ruined, until a near tragedy brings them back together. I loved Temperance's big moment, in which she goes all out to show him how she feels. The depth of trust and emotion was incredible and truly moving.

The suspense of the story, the search for the murderer, was really good. I loved Caire's determination to find out who it was, no matter the motivation. It was really interesting to see how a woman like Temperance was actually able to get more useful information than a large, intimidating nobleman could. The danger intensified as they got closer to the discovery. I was surprised by who it turned out to be. The final confrontation was intense, extremely dangerous, and nearly fatal for Caire. There were a couple of appearances by the mysterious Ghost of St. Giles, including a vital one at the end. I have a couple suspicions on his identity, and look forward to reading the next book to find out.

I also enjoyed the various secondary characters. Temperance's brother Winter was fascinating. He is protective of her, but also seems to be accepting of her independence. I also got the feeling that there is more to him than the teacher and foundling home shows. Her sister Silence is another interesting sibling. She is shown to be very much in love with her sea captain husband, to the point where she does something reckless when he gets into trouble. I ached for her over his reaction. Their situation was left unresolved, so I hope to see them in a later book. Lady Hero is another one who fascinated me. She is independent, and has interests outside of those expected of young society women. I liked how she and Temperance connected so quickly. I also enjoyed how she and Caire's mother came to the rescue of the foundling home at the end. Caire's mother is one who I wasn't sure of at the beginning, as she seemed rather cold and disapproving, but by the end she had grown on me.

A fascinating part of the book was a look at the seamier side of London. There was very little of the usual balls and other society pursuits. Instead, there was a realistic portrayal of the hardships of the prostitutes, orphans, and other residents of St. Giles.

*copy received from Netgalley in exchanged for honest review.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Last Chance Christmas Ball - Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley, et al (Kensington - Oct 2015)

My True Love Hath My Heart by Joanna Bourne

A longtime love is rekindled, with a chance to strike at injustice, a future to determine and jewelry theft thrown in for good measure.

Claire, daughter of a Swiss jeweler and talented jeweler in her own right, is masquerading as a maid at a Christmas house party. She is determined to get revenge on a man who cheated her and damaged her reputation as an artisan. Nick is an English nobleman who spends his time traveling throughout Europe, doing work for the English government. Nick has followed Claire, determined to make her see that they can have a life together. Claire loves him too much to allow him to marry someone as far beneath him as she is.

I enjoyed this story, as Nick helps Claire carry out her revenge, while at the same time wearing down her objections to their love. I liked the way that he loved her for who she was, and wasn't worried about the social niceties. I liked the ending, as he revealed the depth of his feelings for her. His visit to her family was a sweet touch.

I liked the revenge story and Claire's plans to carry it out. I also enjoyed the adjustment to the plan, which involved helping the daughter of her target. The scene in the library with Claire and Mary was terrific.

A Scottish Carol by Susan King

A doctor fresh from the horrors of Waterloo is reacquainted with his mentor's daughter.

Henry is a doctor and viscount who served in the army during the war. Since his return to Scotland six months ago he has been filling in as a lecturer at the university. At the beginning of the story he speaks with the most talented of his students about an assignment, only to discover that the young man is actually the daughter of his former mentor. She is also the woman he had loved and lost. He is haunted by the things he saw during the war and has buried his emotions as a way to protect himself.

Clary is a widow after the husband forced on her by an arranged marriage dies in an accident. After moving back with her father and losing him recently, she needs something to occupy her time. When she discovers that Henry is back, she sneaks into his lectures, just to be near the man she always loved. She never understood why he had left so abruptly those years ago.

A series of events ends up stranding Clary at Henry's country home during a blizzard. Alone together, Clary senses Henry's turmoil and wants to help him learn to feel again. I enjoyed seeing her open his heart to the joys of the holiday again. After so many years apart, they also rediscover all the things they have in common, including a love that never died.  The dog, Max, was a great addition to the story.

Christmas Larks by Patricia Rice

Returning home from war, damaged and disoriented Ivor Whitney-Harris hears mice in the walls and rekindles his childhood acquaintance with Sarah Jane Langsdale.

A reunion story. Ivo has returned to England months after the war ended. First he was recovering from an injury, then avoiding seeing his father again. After receiving word of his father's death, he heads home. He's attacked by footpads not far from his childhood home, and arrives to find an empty house before he collapses. Sarah Jane grew up with Ivo. The house was willed by Ivo's father to soon become an orphanage. While checking on the house, she discovers Ivo injured and babbling of talking mice. With no one else to do it, she stays to nurse him back to health.

I ached for Ivo, who is haunted by the things he saw during the war. A talented artist, even in his illness he is compelled to put what he sees on canvas. Being in his childhood home brings him comfort, as he has dreamed of settling there after the war. He doesn't know that he no longer owns the house. Seeing Sarah again, he begins to see her as more than his childhood friend. Sarah has always loved Ivo, but he never saw her as more than a friend. Seeing how happy he is to be back in the house, she dreads telling him the truth.

I liked seeing them get to know each other again. Sarah's love for him is obvious in the way she takes care of him and worries about him. Ivo had a little more trouble realizing what it was he felt for her. His anger when he finds out about the house is understandable, but he says some terrible things to her. I ached for Sarah and her belief that Ivo hates her now. I liked his big moment at the end, as he finally finds the words to tell her how he feels.

The talking mice were an interesting addition to the story. I really wondered what kind of hallucinations Ivo was having, until Sarah heard them too. I liked the truth behind it, as it was another insight into the effects of the war on more than just the men who fought it.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Mary Jo Putney

A wounded soldier's final return to those who love him is ensnarled by his wounded anguish.

I loved this story. Kimball and Roxie had grown up together, and moved from friends to a couple. But Kim felt as though he'd had things too easy all his life, and was compelled to join the army and fight against Napoleon. Roxie wasn't happy with his decision, but had no choice but to accept it. Then Kim was badly injured, his life seriously altered. The doctor who saved him (Henry, from The Scottish Carol) made it clear that Kim would improve only if he made a determined effort to do so. So Kim went home, but he locked himself away, refusing to see anyone but his servant, including Roxie. No matter how many times she tried, he always turned her away.

I really liked Roxie. She is fun and she is kind, but she is also stubborn. When Kim's brother Edward offers to marry her instead, since Kim is refusing to follow through, Roxie agrees that it might be a workable solution. They are friends, after all, and have always gotten along. But Roxie is determined to see Kim face to face before she will commit to Edward. She still loves him.

I liked Kim, but certainly wanted to shake him. I loved that he wanted to do something worthwhile with his life, which is what sent him to war. I even understood his desire to hide himself away at the beginning, but I felt that he should have been working through his fears by that time. He still loves Roxie, but wants to protect her from being tied to a "cripple".

I loved Roxie's conversation with Kim's servant, and how it set things up for her confrontation. I really enjoyed seeing her knock down all his arguments, with her ballgown being the icing on that particular cake. I loved their big moment at the end, as she brings him out of darkness back into the light of love.

Old Flames Dance by Cara Elliott

A long lost love returns from a far flung place. Too late or can all be set right?

Good second chance story. Lily and Edward had been in love ten years earlier, but his parents thought he was too young to marry and refused to allow the match. Lily's father was in financial difficulties, so Lily agreed to marry a much older man who agreed to help. She went to India with him, where he died, and she married yet another man. After his death, Lily came back to England, and arrived in time to attend her godmother's Christmas ball. There she ran into Edward again. Her love for him had never died, but it is rumored that he is about to announce his engagement.

I liked Lily. She's smart, beautiful and honorable. She doesn't want to come between Edward and his potential fiancée. I also liked Edward, who is now caught in a tangle.

I liked the rekindling of their relationship. The scene in the library, where they first saw each other again, was great. I loved that he knew her right away, even though she had changed a lot. Every time they were together, the attraction between them grew. I loved the advice that Lily got from the dowager duchess, though she was undecided about taking it. I liked her method of choosing, though I suspect she had some assistance in the outcome. The final scene in the library, then the ballroom was fantastic. I especially enjoyed how well it blended with the previous story.

A Season for Marriage by Nicola Cornick

What can you do when your husband spurns you? Why flee to the arms of your loving family and hope!

Very emotional story. Caro has been married to Piers for six months. He is her brother Edward's best friend and used to visit when they were younger. He was always nice to her and she's been in love with him for years, though he never seemed to notice her that way. They were forced into marriage because he had accidentally compromised her, and she has been trying to make it up to him ever since. She's gone overboard in shopping, trying to buy herself a boost in confidence, so that she can be the political wife he needs.

After a disastrous wedding night, Piers has avoided her, spending all his time on his political work. He is fascinated by her wit and kindness, and fears that he's falling in love with her. His experience with love was that of seeing his parents' obsession with each other to the exclusion of everything else, and he wants no part of that loss of control.

After a confrontation regarding her spending, Caro knows she has to do something to rescue her marriage. While he is away from the house, she leaves for her family home and the Christmas ball, hoping that he will follow, and fearing that he won't.  I loved his reaction and what he did, and ached for him and the turmoil of his feelings.

I loved seeing Caro stand up to him and let him know why she has been so unhappy. He was so oblivious to the effects his actions had had on her that it was quite a shock. He was still having trouble dealing with his feelings and managed to hurt her yet again with his words (or lack of them). It took an unexpected bit of jealousy and a waltz to drive him to finally admit his feelings to her and himself. I loved Caro's understanding and willingness to forgive.

Miss Finch and the Angel by Jo Beverley

A lowly companion captures the gaze of a well-intentioned rake.

Good story. Clio was introduced in the prologue as the companion of Lady Holly. She's very quiet, content to stay in the background. Gabriel is Lady Holly's godson, the second son of a duke, and something of a rogue and a rake. She has summoned him to the ball to help her make the wallflowers look good. He is more than willing, but also finds himself intrigued by Clio.

Clio is a young woman who was deceived by a man and spurned by her family afterward. She has settled on a life of service, knowing that marriage is no longer an option for her. She does her best to blend into the background, though it isn't really her nature.

I loved Gabriel's determination to help Clio find a man, even though she was reluctant. What was even more fun was how personal it became for him. It was great to see him start thinking of her as his, though he resisted at first because of what might be her reputation. They had a couple encounters where they got to know each other a little, and Gabriel was more entranced by her. I loved seeing them at the ball together, and how he brought her out of the background.

The ending was great, with the unexpected appearance of Clio's father. I loved Gabriel's immediate protectiveness. I especially enjoyed Gabriel's conversation with Mr. Finch. I liked seeing Gabriel get what he didn't know he wanted until it was right in front of him.

Mistletoe Kisses by Annie Grace

French verbs and mistletoe kisses. Life for Allie Fenton was set upon a oath that seemed unlikely to waiver.

Another good story. Allie is a young woman whose father has died and whose cousin has inherited the house she grew up in. Rather than stay and become an unpaid servant in his household, she plans to become a teacher. But Lady Holly isn't going to let her get away before attending the Christmas ball, and has even provided a beautiful dress for her. Allie agrees to attend.

For the few days before the ball, Allie has given her servants the time off and is staying alone in her home. Two travelers have a carriage accident near her home and she takes them in. Lord Kelsey and his sister Lucilla are also headed to Lady Holly's for the ball.

I liked both Allie and John. She is kind, pretty and practical. She has been running the estate for years and has the confidence of someone who is used to being in charge. It was fun to see her bossing John and Lucilla around. John changed his own holiday plans so that he could take his sister to Lady Holly's, which I found very sweet.

I enjoyed the development of their romance. Snowed in over the next several days, the three become good friends, sharing meals, chores, cards games and even a little dancing. Sister Lucilla is a bit mischievous and has a heavy hand with the mistletoe, leading to several passionate encounters. Allie comes to Lucilla's rescue, when her ball gown is discovered to have gotten ruined in the accident, and gives up her own and her chance to attend the ball herself. I loved John's reaction to her absence, and the assistance he received from Lady Holly to bring the ball to Allie. Those hours together were sweet, and he promised to be back the next day.

But an emergency at home had him otherwise occupied, and his note of explanation goes astray. I ached for Allie and her belief that she'd been forgotten. I loved John's big moment at the end, and the assistance he received from an unexpected source.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Untamed Desire - Beth Brookes/Lindsay McKenna (Jove - June 1982)

Series: Second Chance at Love (Book 53)

Beautiful, tempestuous and newly-divorced, Storm Reynolds is determined to succeed as a bush pilot in Alaska. The sportsmen she flies into the wild are a lusty lot, but she can handle any situation. . . and any man -- except Jim Talbot, her lean, brooding boss. Jim wants her fired! But why?

On a night of tender sorrow, the desire they have refused to admit bursts into soaring passion. But in the frozen wilderness they face a final, brutal test that threatens their love. . . and their lives!

Another golden oldie. Storm has come from Seattle to Alaska to take up the job of bush pilot and start a new life after her divorce. She doesn't expect to have to deal with a fellow pilot and boss who wants her gone, just because she's a woman.

The book opens with the confrontation between Jim and Storm, who was hired by the other partner in the company. Jim insists that she is not hired, and Storm is equally insistent that she is. She stands right up to his prejudices and refuses to back down in the face of his insults. Underneath the professional battle, there are also some serious personal sparks flying. Storm is especially unhappy about it because Jim reminds her all too much of her ex-husband. Storm gets to prove her mettle right away, as an emergency call comes in an she's the only other pilot available to serve as copilot. It's a somewhat confusing flight for Storm, as she sees multiple sides of Jim, from pilot to caring paramedic to charming man.

I really liked Storm. She is a woman in a man's world of bush pilots, determined to be the best she can be. She doesn't whine about Jim's treatment of her, she just hunkers down and does the job. She also doesn't hesitate to tell him what she thinks. Her biggest problem as she sees it, is that she is also attracted to him, which also makes her mad. There were times when she frustrated me though, because I thought she could also be overly sensitive to any comment he made, even if he wasn't being snide.

Jim's attitude at the beginning made me mad. He seemed like just another male chauvinist who didn't want a woman horning in on his career. His obvious attraction to her made it look like he thought women were only good for one thing. But there were other times when his actions showed him to be very fair minded, and also protective. It isn't until Storm overhears an argument between Jim and Dan that we discover why he doesn't want a woman as a bush pilot, and that makes his actions more understandable.

I really liked seeing the development of their relationship. Their attraction was incredible, but their personal issues made it hard for them to be together. They would go from sniping at each other to passionate kisses in a heartbeat. The only place they didn't have trouble was when they were actually flying together. Then a medical emergency flight ended badly and they turned to each other for comfort. Unfortunately, Storm has problems believing in her worth as a woman, thanks to her ex-husband's treatment of her, and she fears that Jim is only using her, causing her to pull away from the closeness they were beginning to feel. I liked seeing Jim finally take matters into his own hands by going with her on a flight so they could talk. Then an inflight emergency combined with bad weather brings back his own fears about women pilots. Storm and Jim have to work together to survive. I loved seeing them finally overcome all their issues by being honest with each other. There was a nice little twist that came out while they were stranded that cemented their relationship. There were a couple really sweet scenes in the hospital as they were recovering.

There was also a bit of suspense going on. There is one pilot who seriously gives Storm the creeps and is later found to be drinking on the job and fired. He doesn't take it well. When a couple of planes, including one that Storm is flying, have mechanical issues, it's pretty obvious to the reader that they are not accidents. Will they be able to stop him before he causes a tragedy?

Hold Fast 'Til Morning - Beth Brookes/Lindsay McKenna (Jove - Mar 1982)

Series: Second Chance at Love (Book 36)

By day, dark-haired engineer Cait Monahan was the only woman for the job--troubleshooting a behind-schedule pipeline in Argentina. By night, she was a woman alone, tormented by dreams of her husband's tragic death. In her need, she reached out to Dominic Tobbar, whose kisses enflamed her senses and melted the barrier of the past. Cait was tough on the outside, but vulnerable underneath. Could she ever learn to love again?

Very good book. It is more than thirty years old, but still holds up well. Cait is a strong woman doing a job that few women at that time did. She is an engineer, assigned as the replacement project supervisor on a job that is behind schedule. She is met by Dominic Tobbar, one of the section supervisors, who was not expecting a woman.

First impression of Dominic is of a foul-tempered womanizer. He looks at Cait as if she's there for his pleasure, until he discovers who she is. He's full of snide comments, and appears to have no respect for her position. He's also a very good looking man, with a sense of barely leashed passion. Cait is stunned by her physical reaction to him, something she hasn't felt since her husband's tragic death a year earlier.

Cait meets her second in command when she arrives at the work site. Campos is quite effusive in his comments and compliments to her, which sends up a bit of a red flag to her. The next morning, Cait gets an early start and Campos fills her in on the problems with the site. He is quick to lay a lot of blame at Dominic's feet, accusing him of not being a team player. A confrontation a short time later reinforces those statements, leaving Cait wondering if she's going to have to fire Dominic. But what he has to say makes sense to her, and a check of paperwork proves his point. I liked that Dominic was man enough to apologize to her, and try to make amends. It is the beginning of a growing trust between them.

There is also an intense attraction there that Cait doesn't quite know what to do with. She is still grieving the loss of her husband, suffering nightmares where she relives his death. Dominic is just as drawn to her, which confuses him. He has a very low opinion of women in general because of a bad marriage and the other women he's been exposed to. Cait's openness and honesty is something he's not experienced before. He is unable to resist her, and finds himself kissing her at every chance he gets. He also turns out to be more sensitive than he initially appeared, and is there for her as Cait works her way through her grief.

I enjoyed the development of their relationship. Cait quickly discovers that she can trust him, and is able to share her problems with him. Dominic also comes to respect Cait and her abilities at work. As they work together to bring the project back on schedule, they got to know each other very well. I loved seeing them share their pasts, mistakes and all. It was really sweet to see Dominic uncover the woman under the surface. I loved the scene when he took her to his ranch and showed her more of who he is. It was easy to see that they were falling for each other, but there are still obstacles to overcome. I ached for Cait as her love for Dominic grew stronger, but so did her fear of losing him the way she lost her husband. The fight against Mother Nature at the end brought her fears to the forefront. I ached for her as she faced those fears, and loved Dominic for being with her every step of the way. The ending was romantic and triumphant for both of them.

Throughout the book was the secondary story of why the project was behind schedule. It was pretty obvious from the beginning that Campos had something he was trying to hide. He attempted to deflect Cait's attention to the problems he attributed to Dominic, but she quickly realized there was more to it. I loved the arrival of her friend and coworker Louie and his quick agreement that there was something fishy. I really liked how he, Cait and Dominic worked so well together and were able to figure out what was going on. I especially loved seeing Cait stand up in front of the board and make her case so well. That too was extremely satisfying.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Love Me Before Dawn - Lindsay McKenna (SIM #44 - Apr 1984)


Tess Hamilton met Shep Ramsey under purely social circumstances, but it was a matter of national security that provided the real basis of their relationship.

Tess was working on a prototype airplane, and Shep was the man chosen to test its wings. For months her work on the plane had obsessed her, but now Shep had entered her heart and she was facing one frightening fact: if there were even one mistake in the plane, the man she loved would forfeit his life.

Very good book. This is an old book, written in 1984, and takes place in the mid-70s. Even so, it does not feel all that dated, with the issues at hand still existing today. Tess is a brilliant young woman, married to a much older man. She works for/with him, coordinating the building of a new bomber for the Air Force. She meets Shep Ramsey at a social event and connects with him. Shep is a test pilot, good looking and confident, but also sensitive. He sees her discomfort and spends much time talking with her. He's contemplating the end of his marriage to a social climber, and gives in to the urge to share a hot kiss with the sweet Tess. Unknown to them, it is observed by a less than pleasant man. This man tattles to her husband the next day, adding to the stress of an already over-worked man. Cy Hamilton dies of a heart attack in Tess's arms, believing she's having an affair, and leaving Tess devastated and aching with guilt.

Months later, Tess is still deeply involved with the plane's production. She puts in long hours, burying her feelings in work. She is reunited with Shep, who is one of the pilots who may be testing the plane. The sparks are still there between them, but how can she move on with the object of her guilt?

I really liked Tess. She's smart, sensitive and honorable. She's also a bit naïve at the beginning of the book. She's had very little experience outside the world of education, and has married a man who seems to be more interested in grooming her for his own purposes than in actually loving who she is. I ached for her feelings of insecurity outside of work. She also has the difficulty of being a woman in a job that is held mostly by men and has to deal with the prejudices and attitudes that go along with it. After her husband's death, she continued her work, earning respect from at least some of those she worked with.

I loved Shep. He is confident in his abilities as a pilot. He would rather fly than do anything else. At the beginning of the book, he has come to realize that he is no longer in love with his wife, who he admits never loved him. He was a tool in her attempts to move up the social ladder. He is also a sensitive man who immediately sees Tess's discomfort at the party. He can't help but try to help her. He's stunned by his immediate connection to her. Though he doesn't regret kissing her, he feels badly about the consequences of that kiss.

When they meet again, the sparks are still there. Shep has not been able to forget her, but knows she has been dealing with so much, so he has stayed away. Now in the later stages of the plane's production, Shep and Tess are thrown together. Now that they are both free, Shep wants to get to know her better, but Tess is still mired in grief and guilt. I loved seeing Shep's patience as he coaxes Tess out of her shell and into living life again. The hiking scene is great, as Shep's instincts help her reconnect with nature and she starts to relax with him. I loved seeing them share some of their pasts. They are starting to get closer, but Tess is still fighting her guilty feelings. When their next date is pre-empted by a work crisis, and she can't get word to Shep, his own insecurities rear up. I ached for both of them, as Tess worried about Shep's reaction and he fears that his growing feelings are not returned. Both of them have to face their fears before they can move on together. After a highly emotional scene, they are finally ready to see what the future might bring.

Their troubles aren't over however. Tess is dealing with the stress of political pressures regarding the program. There is also a subcontractor that has his own ax to grind with both Tess and Shep. There's a terrific scene between him and Shep, where Shep's protectiveness really comes out. Tess has her own scene with him later that was also very satisfying. As the date of the test flight gets closer, their feelings get stronger, but those same feelings create an intense level of fear in Tess. She knows the things that can go wrong during a test flight, and she fears for Shep's safety. I loved his sensitivity to those fears, and how he worked to ease them. It was fantastic to see Tess's growth, thanks to his love and support. The test flight scene was great, and I loved Shep's big moment after it.

I loved the realism of the political wrangling, complaints about the media, and other production problems. All of those things added a sense of realism to the book, as they still happen today. Tess's frustration was real and believable. 

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)


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)


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.