Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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

Series: Sweetest Kisses (Book 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

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

Series: Cowboys of Copper Creek (Book 2)

A love worth fighting for . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

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

Series: Finnegan Connection (Book 1)

Trust the enemy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

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

Series: Lucky Penny Ranch (Book 2)

Let’s give ’em something to talk about…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

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

Series: Cedar Ridge (Book 3)

SOMETIMES YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

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

Series: Cedar Ridge (Book 2)


UNEXPECTED AND UNDENIABLE . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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

Series: Home to Hickory Hollow (Book 5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Study of Seduction - Sabrina Jeffries (Pocket - Mar 2016)

Series: Sinful Suitors (Book 2)

When Edwin Barlow, the Earl of Blakeborough, agrees to help his best friend's impetuous ward, Lady Clarissa Lindsey, in her time of need, he knows he's in for trouble. He's been hunting for someone to wed, and she'll just get in the way. Although captivated by the witty, free-spirited beauty, he fears she'd be all wrong as a wife...if she would even take such a gruff cynic for her husband. Yet he wants nothing more than to have her for his own.

Clarissa has no intention of marrying anyone not Edwin, whom she's sure would be an overbearing husband, and certainly not the powerful French diplomat stalking her. But when matters escalate with the diplomat, she chooses Edwin's gallant offer of a marriage between friends in hopes that it will deter her stalker. She expects nothing more than an amiable union, but their increasingly tempestuous kisses prove more than she bargained for. When her stalker's vow to expose the lovers deepest secrets threatens to destroy their blossoming attraction, will their tenuous bond withstand public ruin, or will Edwin lose all that's important to him to protect his bride?

Very good book. By the end of The Art of Sinning (Book 1), I had a pretty good idea that Edwin and Clarissa were going to be the next couple. The sparks flying between them were too obvious not to be acted on. At the beginning of this book, Clarissa's guardian and cousin, Warren, has to go on a trip and asks his best friend Edwin to keep an eye on Clarissa. There's a French diplomat that has been pursuing her and won't take no for an answer. Clarissa is extremely independent and is not happy with the idea of someone watching over her - especially Edwin.

Edwin and Clarissa have known each other for a long time. Their families' estates are next door to each other, and Clarissa has been best friends with Edwin's sister Yvette for years. Whenever they come in contact sparks fly. Edwin is a bit on the serious and stuffy side and tends to look askance at some of Clarissa's antics, while Clarissa, who is more lighthearted and enjoys having fun, seems to enjoy poking at Edwin's stuffiness. It really ratchets up a notch when it becomes necessary for her to accept his presence as protection. The scene that sets this up was fun to read as Clarissa's objections get shot down every time.

I really liked Edwin. He's been there in other books, usually in the background. He's a bit stiff and stuffy, but he's steady and reliable and there when his friends need him. He's very protective of those he cares for, such as his sister and his friends. He is haunted by something that happened when he was a child, something that has caused him to keep his emotions tightly controlled. He also doesn't like to ask for help from anyone, a quirk that creates some difficulty for him later on. He knows it's time for him to look for a wife, so he'll watch over Clarissa while he does his searching. He knows that he wants a quiet, sensible woman who will give him a peaceful home life. He tells himself he doesn't want someone as lively and flighty and irritating as Clarissa.

I also liked Clarissa. She's enthusiastic, loves dancing and opera and parties. She's a bit of a flirt, enjoying the attentions of men, but never letting them get too close. She has made no secret of the fact that she doesn't want to marry, but doesn't say why. She too is protective of those she loves, such as her mother and brother and her friends. She gets a great deal of enjoyment out of teasing Edwin and shaking up what she sees as his boring life.

As Edwin takes on the challenge of protecting Clarissa, he quickly realizes that he's in far more trouble than he expected. He finally has to admit to himself that he's attracted to her, even though he feels that they are all wrong for each other. I loved seeing the development of their relationship, as two people who believe that they already know each other very well discover that there are still some surprises to be had. I loved seeing Edwin begin to enjoy some of Clarissa's antics, finding that they brightened up his life. I also loved how Clarissa came to appreciate Edwin's sometimes blunt straightforward comments, as they were honest. The attraction between them continues to grow stronger, but there is frustration also, because Clarissa seems to blow hot and cold over his advances.

When the only way to ensure Clarissa's safety is for them to marry, Edwin makes his case with his typical pragmatic logic. Clarissa accepts the necessity, but has conditions of her own, ones that only add to Edwin's frustration. I ached for him because he was certain that there was something about him that made it impossible for her to handle his touch. It isn't until that frustration comes to a head, and he tells her about the traumatic event of his childhood that Clarissa is finally able to open up about the reasons for her own actions. Edwin finished winning my heart at this point because of his reaction. I loved his sensitivity and patience as they worked together to overcome her fears. These were truly some amazingly sweet and sexy scenes.

The problem of Clarissa's stalker ran throughout the book. The more I saw of him, the creepier he was, and I completely understood Clarissa's fear of him. It didn't take long for Edwin to understand just how dangerous he was too. There were some of his actions that made no sense to Edwin and Clarissa, especially once they were married. He should have given up by then, but seemed more determined than ever. An attack on Clarissa had Edwin challenging him to a duel, which terrified Clarissa. News brought back to England by Clarissa's cousin shed light on Durand's reasons, but still left Edwin determined to stay the course. I loved seeing Warren practically force Edwin to ask for help from his friends, which ended up being a very good thing. I was not at all surprised by the results of that help nor by the final confrontation. It also made Clarissa and Edwin realize the full truth of their feelings for each other. The epilogue was an excellent finish to the story, with a surprise arrival and a hint of things yet to come.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Marriage of Rogues - Margaret Moore (HH #1317 - Feb 2017)

He made a dangerous wager…and won himself a wife

Gambling hells are Sir Develin Dundrake's forte. Hunting risk, craving victory, he's surprised by nothing. Until the woman whose dowry Develin has claimed in a card game proposes the only solution that will rescue her from ruin: a wedding.

Wicked Develin isn't made for matrimony, but all Lady Theodora Markham demands is a convenient arrangement. He must avoid falling for his wife's sensual charms -- there are secrets hidden behind her beguiling gaze -- yet neither can resist surrendering to the passion their marriage bed promises!

Very good book with an unusual start. Dev is back at his country home after having won a great deal of money in a card game that he regrets playing. The man had been losing steadily and Dev tried everything he could to end the game before finally walking away. He's in his study when he sees a woman walking purposefully toward his house and expects it to be someone soliciting for a charity. He's startled when she appears right outside the doors.

Thea is the daughter of the man Dev won the money from. He has left England for Canada, leaving Thea behind. She no longer has her dowry or any way to support herself. She informs Dev that since he already has the dowry, he may as well take the bride. She explains that marriage to her will save him from the machinations of those trying to trap him into marriage. She will make no demands of him, other than ensuring that she has a home and security. She isn't sure that he'll agree, but she has to try.

I really enjoyed this encounter. Thea is independent, having spent years dealing with the consequences of her father's gambling. She's honest about her expectations. She's more nervous about this that she shows, but comes across quite confident. Dev is a bit taken aback by her forwardness, but feels a bit guilty about his part in her problems. He's still not too certain about agreeing to her proposal, until he kisses her. That kiss has quite an effect on both of them. Dev finds himself agreeing to the marriage. They part ways until the next day. Thea is vastly  relieved, but it isn't long before Dev is having second thoughts. But he's a man of his word and won't back out.

Dev's doubts remain, even during their trip to Gretna Green, but they don't stop him from going through with it. The ceremony and wedding supper have some lighter moments, with the tension building toward their wedding night. He's still thinking of resisting the attraction, afraid that he rushed his way into a mistake. But the attraction is too strong .

Back in Cumbria the next day, there is some awkwardness as they enter married life. Dev is still doubting his wisdom and sends for his solicitor for advice. I had some issues with him, as he was extremely suspicious without even having met Thea. Dev is all too willing to listen to him and tries to distance himself from Thea. Meanwhile, she has gone into the town to order some new clothes and had two very different encounters. One with Lady Gladys, a young woman who is very nice, rather exuberant, and unfortunately klutzy. Thea likes her immediately. The second encounter is with the Duchess of Scane and her daughter Caroline, which doesn't go nearly so well. They are extremely rude to both Thea and Gladys. I loved seeing Thea stand up to them both. When she tells Dev what happened, I was glad to see that he supported her.

Over the next several days, Dev does his best to keep his distance emotionally, without letting on to Thea about what he is considering about their marriage. Thea is confused by his absence from her bed, worried that she has done something wrong. However, they do spend some time together, during which they get to know each other. I rather enjoyed Dev's confusion, as the more he learned about her, the more he believed in her, but he kept reporting bits of information to Roger. Thea fell harder for Dev, and continued to worry about the state of their relationship. There were a few times that their attraction overcame Dev's attempts to stay away, but he would still back away. Things started to get better between them until Roger found out information about Thea's father that worried both him and Dev.

It was quite satisfying to see Dev suffer the way he was. As the book goes on we learn a little bit more about why he falls prey to so many doubts. I ached for him and the effects that his parents' marriage had on him and his belief in the existence of love. I liked seeing his determination to find out the truth about Thea's father himself. The interruption of his search was a surprise, especially the reason for it. I loved his protectiveness, even under the circumstances. I suspected the perpetrator was going to cause more trouble, and he did. The rescue created some problems for him with Thea, and their tempers got the best of both of them. I loved seeing Thea stand up for her opinion and actions, though their later harsh words to each other caused doubt about their feelings on both sides.

Thea's pride and independence cause her to put herself into a dangerous situation and it's only Dev's fortunate arrival that gets her out of it. It was satisfying to see that Dev had finally seen what was most important in their lives and they were able to solve their differences.

I also really enjoyed the secondary characters. Gladys was my favorite with her blunt speech and endearing clumsiness. She was a truly nice person and I would love to see her get her own story. Surely there's some uptight nobleman that needs his life turned upside down? The Scane family was an interesting group. I liked the duke a lot. He treated both Dev and Thea well. His wife was definitely a stuck up witch, who was rude to anyone she felt didn't meet her standards. I started out disliking Caroline because of the way she treated Thea, but felt bad for her later in the book, even though she brought it on herself. I loved seeing how Thea's influence changed her life, and really wanted to see the resolution of her problem. Maybe she'll get her own book too, as there seemed to be some promise in an unexpected relationship. I'm still a little wishy-washy on Roger. I really didn't like how suspicious of Thea he was, especially once he met her. I became a little more understanding as some of his background was revealed. It would be interesting to see what his future holds in store for him.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. There were parts that moved me to tears and others that had me laughing out loud. There were also several times I wanted to shake both Dev and Thea and tell them to talk to each other for heaven's sake! So much could have been avoided if they had shared their fears. I liked the ending with the glimpse into their future.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Cowboy's Cinderella - Carol Arens (HH #1315 - Feb 2017)

His Fair Lady

The only life Ivy Magee has known is aboard a gambling boat. Until cowboy Travis Murphy arrives with the startling revelation that she's inherited a ranch. Ivy must now leave her home behind and put aside her tomboyish ways.

To save the ranch, Travis knows Ivy must marry a wealthy stranger. And if that means teaching her to become a lady, then so be it. Except, being a part of Ivy's transformation makes Travis wish he could be the prince to this unlikely Cinderella!

Good book, that seemed to be a mashup of Cinderella, My Fair Lady and a little bit of The Parent Trap. Ivy has spent most of her life on a riverboat on the Missouri River, raised by her Uncle Patrick. She's led a pretty carefree life, wearing trousers, hanging out with the deckhands, swimming in the river and playing with her pet mouse. That all comes to an end with the arrival of Travis Murphy.

Travis has made his home on the Lucky Clover Ranch for most of his life, raised like a son by the ranch owner. The man has one sickly daughter and a ranch with a huge mortgage on it. Just before he dies, he confesses to Travis that he has another daughter, who went with his wife when they divorced. He plans to leave the ranch to her, in hopes that she will come to Wyoming and marry the wealthy neighbor who can save the ranch. He asks Travis to find her and bring her back. Travis meets Ivy before he discovers who she is. He's immediately taken with her, but once he knows who she is he knows it's hands off.

I liked Travis very much. He is an honorable man, who wants what is best for both Ivy and the people of the ranch. He's very honest with her about what is waiting for her in Wyoming, including an arranged marriage. I loved seeing how he watched over her on their journey, falling for her a little more each day. Once they arrived in Wyoming, he found a teacher for her so she could learn to be the lady she was expected to be. It was sweet to see how he tried to help her ease into her new role.

I mostly liked Ivy. I liked her honesty and her free spirit. I also liked the way that she listened to what Travis told her about the ranch and its problems and weighed all her options before making a decision. She was also very protective of those she cared about. I ached for her homesickness as she left the river and her uncle behind. I had to laugh at some of her opinions as Madame was trying to teach her everything she needed to know. My biggest irritation with how she was portrayed was what felt like overuse of hillbilly type expressions. A little bit of that went a long way.

I really liked that Travis and Ivy first became friends. They had an easy time talking to each other, and Ivy was able to share her fears with him. Their feelings began to deepen, even though they tried very hard to resist. Ivy wanted to be able to follow her feelings, but she knew that she needed to marry William in order to save the ranch. Just the thought of Ivy marrying William made Travis ache inside. They had a couple small moments when their feelings would overcome their common sense, but they always managed to pull back in time. Then a life-threatening occurrence brought it all to the surface and they gave in, but still believed their plans still had to go on. Both Travis and Ivy have decisions to make about their futures. I have to say that I thought Ivy had a lot more courage than Travis did, and I loved seeing what she did. I loved the poker game, which made me grin as I read it, and the swimming scene after was sweet and spicy.

The storyline involving Ivy's twin sister was at times heartbreaking and at others scary or sweet. From the very beginning, Agatha had Ivy's love and protection. It was pretty awesome that Ivy had the nurse's number from the moment they met and that she was determined to protect her sister. I ached for Agatha's fears, and cheered for every step forward that she made. The nurse was definitely creepy, and I loved seeing Ivy get the better of her every time. The final showdown with her was intense, and I felt that she deserved what she got. I'd like to see what happens to Agatha, though I think I have a pretty good idea.

I also liked William. I was prepared not to, since he was going about the whole marriage thing in a very businesslike manner. But he was a really nice man who wanted to treat Ivy well. He was ambitious, but not ruthless or arrogant about it. I wouldn't mind seeing more of him and would like to see him find someone he can love and who will love him back.

I liked Madame, whose job it was to try to teach Ivy more ladylike ways. It wasn't an easy job. She was also pretty clear-sighted about what she saw happening between Ivy and Travis and did her best to keep them on the straight and narrow. I enjoyed seeing her and Ivy grow closer as the book went on. I also thoroughly enjoyed seeing her get her own unexpected happy ending. Ivy's Uncle Patrick was also great. I liked how he took such good care of her growing up, and continued to want to do the right thing for her when Travis showed up. His part in the ending was great.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Honor Bound - B.J. Daniels (HQN - Oct 2016)

Series: Montana Hamiltons (Book 6)

Protecting her life will mean betraying her trust

Ainsley Hamilton has always been the responsible one of the family. As the oldest daughter of presidential candidate Buckmaster Hamilton, she's also a potential target. For months she's sensed someone following her. When an expedition to scout locations for a commercial takes a terrifying turn, she's rescued by a natural-born cowboy who tempts the good girl to finally let loose.

Sawyer Nash knows just how reckless it is to fall for someone he's gone undercover to protect. Yet masquerading as an extra on set, he starts to see beneath Ainsley's controlled facade. And with the election -- and a killer -- drawing closer, Sawyer stands to lose not just his job and his life but the woman for whom he'd gladly risk both.

Very good book and conclusion to the series. There are three main stories going on. The one that has been building since the first book, which is the story of Sarah Hamilton and why she has really "returned from the dead". Another is specific to this book and is the story of Ainsley and Sawyer, as is the search for a gang of jewel thieves that may be using the production company as a cover.

Ainsley is the oldest of the Hamilton girls and has been the one to watch out for the others after their mother died. She's tried to be a good example for them. A few years earlier she had felt the need for change, dropped out of law school and became a location scout for a production company that makes commercials. For the last several months she has had the feeling that she's being followed. She doesn't know who or why. When one of her location searches ends in a landslide, she feels lucky that a cowboy was there to save her. She finds him incredibly attractive and is tempted to let go of her good girl ways for a bit.

Sawyer wasn't there by chance. On medical leave from his job with the FBI, he's bored and willing to help out his old friend Sheriff Frank Curry when he's asked to protect Ainsley from a potential stalker. He signs on as an extra for the commercial to give him a reason to be near her. He doesn't expect to be so fascinated by all the facets of her personality or so attracted to her physically. He made the mistake of getting involved with a woman he rescued before and it didn't end well.

I enjoyed the development of their romance. Both of them are independent, intelligent and loyal to those they care about. There was also an immediate attraction between them, stronger than either had ever felt before. Ainsley decides that Sawyer is the perfect person to help her rid herself of a "problem" and Sawyer has a hard time resisting. And though he knows he shouldn't get involved, he finds Ainsley too irresistible. There are bumps in their road, though, as Sawyer's ex, also an FBI agent, is there too, working on the jewel thief case. She isn't happy to see Sawyer with Ainsley and does several mean-spirited things to keep them apart, at the same time trying to convince Sawyer to come back to her. When Ainsley finds out the truth of why Sawyer is there, on top of his connection to Kitzie, she's sure she has made a mistake. It takes a couple of life threatening events to bring them back together.

The various suspense threads were fantastic, with quite a few twists and turns. The stalker situation was intense, with the stalker getting more and more aggressive. Sawyer is pretty sure he has it figured out, but until he's certain he doesn't want to get too far from Ainsley. Just when you think he's got it all wrapped up, it turns out that there is more to the story. Ainsley's life is endangered even further by a stunt that Kitzie pulls, and it is a terrifying close call for Sawyer to show up in time to save her.

The jewel thieves case that Kitzie is working on was interesting. She and her partner had been working it for a while, and she finally feels like they are getting close. I enjoyed following along as they put the clues together. Kitzie's independence and competitiveness puts her in danger, and also risks the resolution of the case. There's a twist to the ending that infuriates Kitzie and doesn't show her particularly well. She does get a chance to redeem herself later.

The biggest story, however, has been the story of Sarah Hamilton. I have gone back and forth on her throughout the series, never quite sure whether I could trust her. It has come out that before she met and married Buck, she had been the leader of a revolutionary group called The Prophecy. In this book we learn more about her disappearance more than twenty years earlier and what was behind it. Now she is becoming more afraid of what is going to happen when Buck is elected president. I felt bad for her and her fears of what would happen when her memories fully returned, and was pretty impressed with her growing determination discover the truth. Her confrontation with her ex-lover and current leader was intense and showed just how dangerous he was. The final scene on election night was truly scary in how possible it could be in real life.

I also enjoyed following along with Sheriff Frank Curry and his wife Nettie. He has been such a big part of several series. He is a man who is always determined to protect the people he serves to the best of his ability, and will go to any length to do so. But he's also getting a bit burned out and wants to spend more time with his wife. It was fun to see that he's also realistic enough to know that a typical retirement is not for him. I loved the solution that he came up with, and the effect it has on Nettie also.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Discovering You - Brenda Novak (Mira - May 2016)

Series: Whiskey Creek (Book 10)

Can she ever trust another "bad boy"?

India Sommers once had the perfect family -- until an ex-boyfriend broke in and shot her husband. Not only did that cost her the man she loved, a respected heart surgeon and the father of her child, but she also feels responsible. Charlie died because of the people she hung out with before she had the strength to change her life.

Just after moving to Whiskey Creek with her little girl, Cassia, to start over, she's learned that her ex-boyfriend's trial ended in a hung jury. He's getting out of jail; he could try to find her again. And that's not all that scares her. She's extremely attracted to her next-door neighbor, but Rod Amos is the handsome "bad boy" type that's given her so much trouble in the past. If she got involved with him, her in-laws would sue for custody of Cassia.

India has to keep her distance from Rod -- but the more she gets to know him, the more difficult that becomes.

Good story with an excellent mix of mystery and romance. India has come to Whiskey Creek to start a new life for herself and her daughter. A year earlier, her husband had been shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend. She's suffering from some guilt because she feels partly responsible for what happened. While she is getting settled in Whiskey Creek, her in-laws are taking care of her daughter. India is worried about that also, because she feels that they are looking for any excuse to keep Cassia with them. On her way home one evening, India comes across Rod, who has just been run off the road and attacked. She stops to help him, and discovers a man who could make her forget her troubles or make them even worse.

Rod is one of the Amos brothers, notorious in Whiskey Creek for their ability to attract trouble. He's gotten into his fair share of it, and that night was no different. He had simply been trying to protect his stepsister from a drunk, who didn't appreciate the interference. He's grateful that India stopped to help. He'd noticed her when she moved in, and is intrigued by her as they talk that night. He's also attracted, but she doesn't seem to know what she wants from him.

I liked Rod. He has a reputation for trouble, but much of it stems from when he was younger and dealing (or not dealing) with turmoil in his life. He has a good job in the family auto body business, and a good relationship with his brothers. He has his own sense of honor and loyalty to those he loves. So far he has avoided any serious relationships, thanks to things that happened with his family when he was younger. Something about India brings out the protectiveness in him, and he finds himself wanting more than the casual encounters he's had with others. There is also a hint of vulnerability as he feels that he's not good enough for her.

I also liked India. She had a rough time when she was younger and made a lot of mistakes. But she pulled herself up and found a good man and a good life. She was devastated by what happened, and is still dealing with her feelings of responsibility. She is determined to avoid the kind of temptation that Rod poses, but his kindness and protectiveness, as well as the chemistry between them, makes it difficult. She's very independent and doesn't want to drag him into her troubles. However, she has no problem involving herself in his, and I loved how she was determined to help him clear his name after the fight at the beginning of the book.

I liked the development of the relationship between them. Once they got past their initial encounter and the awkwardness caused by her actions that night, a friendship began to grow. When India found out that her ex was out of jail because of a hung jury, she was afraid for her life and that of her daughter. I really liked Rod's insistence on her safety. It was fun to see them both try to resist the pull between them and fail so miserably. One of the things that I really liked was that, while the chemistry was hot, they also took the time to talk to each other. They shared the mistakes of their pasts and their fears. When India decides it's time to look for the murderer and the truth about what happened that night, Rod insists on helping. Her worry about his safety made her realize that her feelings for him were much deeper than she had expected, and increased her struggle to get past the fears that were holding her back. I liked Rod's patience as he waited for her to get past her husband's death and accept that she could love and be loved again. I also liked how Rod's love gave her the courage to stand up to her in-laws and their threats and to seize the chance for happiness.

The mystery/suspense portion of the book was also really good. I ached for India and everything she had been through since the death of her husband. Her fear when Sebastian was released was deep and believable. I liked how her growing feelings for Rod gave her the motivation to try to find the information needed to re-try Sebastian, though her decision to do it alone wasn't particularly smart. Rod's involvement was not a surprise, but the lengths he went to had me on the edge of my seat at times, waiting for something to go wrong. The final confrontation was intense. I liked that India took an active part in it. The resolution was really satisfying.

There was also a secondary story involving Rod's brother Mack and their stepsister Natasha. There's definitely something going on there, but Mack is fighting it for all he's worth. He feels that it just isn't right for him to feel this way about his "sister". Natasha, on the other hand, knows exactly how she feels and what she wants and isn't shy about going after it. I liked that Mack was trying to do the right thing and encouraging her to get her education, but he made a few mistakes along the way, that caused unnecessary hurt for her. There was some promising progress by the end of the book. As Mack and Grady still don't have books of their own, I'm hoping that there are still some Whiskey Creek stories to come.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Good Dukes Wear Black - Manda Collins (St. Martins - Apr 2016)

Series: Lords of Anarchy (Book 3)

LOVE IS ALWAYS A WILD RIDE.

A writer for the Ladies Gazette, Miss Ophelia Dauntry’s passion is her pen. So when she sees a fellow writer kidnapped before her eyes―and the trail of evidence leads to the Lords of Anarchy―Ophelia vows to find her friend and take down the notorious London driving club in her column. But before she can argue her case, she needs the inside scoop from its newest leader: Piers Hamilton, the Duke of Trent.

Headstrong, handsome Trent joined the Lords of Anarchy after a decade in the British Army. He’s made it his business to tame the misbehavior within the driving club―and the infuriatingly attractive Ophelia is only getting in his way. The deeper she digs into the case, the more she puts her own life at risk. Can Trent convince Ophelia to trust him to seek justice…and find protection, and passion, in his arms?

Very good book. I missed reading the first two books in the series, but this one stood by itself very easily. That being said, I do want to go back and read the others. Ophelia is an independent and stubborn young woman who writes for the Ladies Gazette. Her friend Maggie is also a writer for the same publication. When Ophelia witnesses her friend being kidnapped, the day after an argument with her husband, Ophelia is determined to find out what happened to her. She believes it is connected to the Lords of Anarchy driving club, and confronts their new leader with her suspicions.

Trent recently took over leadership of the club, after the two previous presidents were found to be breaking the law. He is determined to bring respectability back to the club, and having Ophelia accuse them of kidnapping isn't going to help.

Ophelia and Trent know each other somewhat as they have mutual friends, which makes it a bit easier for Ophelia to go to Trent. His immediate agreement to help shows her that he had nothing to do with Maggie's kidnapping. As they spend time together trying to find out what happened to Maggie, their casual friendship begins to grow into something more.

I loved both Ophelia and Trent. He is honorable and protective. He has only been a duke for a couple years after being a soldier during the war. He envies his friends their happy marriages, and wonders if he'll find someone who wants him for himself, not his title. Ophelia had not been someone he considered before, but he finds himself captivated and fascinated by her. I loved that he had a great deal of respect for her intelligence, and though her stubbornness sometimes frustrated him, didn't try to shut her out of the investigation. Ophelia is smart and very loyal to her friends. She's determined to find out what happened to Maggie. She quickly trusts Trent to help her do so.

The development of their relationship is really good. They have a basis in friendship, and a chemistry that makes itself known the more time they spend together. I loved how Trent realized quickly that he wanted Ophelia in his life, though it took a little longer for him to realize that it was love. There were a couple of really good scenes with his friends Freddy and Mainwaring as tease him about what they see. I also enjoyed his bouts of jealousy regarding her other suitor. The scene at the ball was especially fun, as circumstances get a bit out of control. I really enjoyed how Ophelia saw her feelings for Trent grow from just friendship, but was a bit worried about what his feelings for her were. She was already fighting off the boring suitor that her mother was pushing on her. I especially enjoyed that there was no great misunderstanding that drives them apart before they get their happy ending.

The mystery was quite interesting and convoluted. As was possible in that era, Maggie is taken off the street by men having an order that she is to be put in an insane asylum. As she was obviously not mentally ill, Ophelia is certain that there is more behind it. There are multiple twists and turns, as suspects are discovered and dismissed. Each time I thought that I knew who it was, something would happen to change my mind. The final confrontation was intense. I really liked that Ophelia had an active part and wasn't just waiting around to be saved.

Marrying Winterbourne - Lisa Kleypas (Avon - June 2016)

Series: Ravenels (Book 2)

A ruthless tycoon

Savage ambition has brought common-born Rhys Winterborne vast wealth and success. In business and beyond, Rhys gets exactly what he wants. And from the moment he meets the shy, aristocratic Lady Helen Ravenel, he is determined to possess her. If he must take her virtue to ensure she marries him, so much the better . . .

A sheltered beauty

Helen has had little contact with the glittering, cynical world of London society. Yet Rhys’s determined seduction awakens an intense mutual passion. Helen’s gentle upbringing belies a stubborn conviction that only she can tame her unruly husband. As Rhys’s enemies conspire against them, Helen must trust him with her darkest secret. The risks are unthinkable . . . the reward, a lifetime of incomparable bliss. And it all begins with…

Marrying Mr. Winterborne

Fantastic book that picks up right where Cold-HeartedRake left off. In that book, Helen and Rhys had been introduced by her cousin Devon, who was looking to use Helen to form a business alliance. When both men were injured in a train accident, Helen took it upon herself to nurse Rhys back to health. It was an odd friendship that developed, between the common-born self-made tycoon and the shy and sheltered Lady Helen. Rhys decided then that he wanted Helen for his own, and she agreed for reasons of her own. But a misunderstanding and interference from her sister-in-law Kathleen, ends the engagement.

This book opens with Helen visiting Rhys at his place of business (just not done!) to explain what had happened and try to reinstate their engagement. I was impressed by Helen and how she stepped way out of her comfort zone to do so. Rhys was not welcoming at first. Though a talented and confident man, sure of his abilities in business, there is part of him that is very vulnerable. He saw Helen's earlier reaction to him as disgust and a rejection of who he is, and now believes she only wants him back because of his wealth. I loved this entire scene, as Helen slowly convinces him that it was him she wants. I especially loved the part about the ring. Though Helen gets her wishes, Rhys has his own condition to guarantee that the marriage will take place. He wants her thoroughly compromised so that no one can stop it. Rhys is both determined and nervous about carrying out his plan - he wants her like he has no other, but he also realizes that he must treat her carefully. This scene was steamy and sweet, and I loved seeing Rhys's tenderness.

The reinstatement of the engagement causes some new tensions, as the desire between Rhys and Helen flares hotter every day. Rhys wants them to marry immediately, but Helen wants to wait until their mourning for her brother is over. Once again, Rhys finds himself wanting to make Helen happy, even if it is hard on him. As her family moves back to the country to put some distance between them, both Helen and Rhys miss each other desperately. During the trip home, Helen discovers something about her past that explains several things, but leaves her more confused about herself. Things go from bad to worse when she discovers that her secret could have a direct effect on her marriage to Rhys.

Their return to London puts Helen and Rhys in close contact again. I loved how they found ways to be together. While their physical relationship continued to intensify, there were also times where they simply talked. I loved seeing how quickly Helen began to understand Rhys and what drives him. She also has a determined way of defending him, to others and to himself. Rhys turned out to be an even more sensitive man that I expected. He is obviously smitten with Helen and determined to do anything to make her happy. The changes in him were obvious, as he went from brooding workaholic to a man who is able to let his softer side show.

When the secret that Helen has rears its ugly head in London, she has some serious decisions to make. Does she tell Rhys and take a chance that he will take it badly, or follow others' advice and keep quiet? A horrifying discovery sends her on a quest for something that could end it all. I loved her determination to make things right, no matter the cost to herself. The intensity of this part had me wondering how it was going to turn out. I loved the ending, with Rhys being both tough and tender, protective and besotted. The follow up scene was hilarious as he planned and carried out their elopement.

I also loved the secondary characters. Helen's sisters, Cassandra and Pandora are terrific in their determination to be themselves, not just another society miss. They are intelligent and kind-hearted and would do anything for their sister Helen. Devon's brother West makes only a small appearance in this book, but I still loved seeing him pretend to hang on to his rakish ways. I loved Dr. Gibson, the lady doctor who made such a big impression on Rhys. Her feistiness and self-confidence were great, as was her assistance to Helen. I also loved Rhys's secretary, Mrs. Fernsby and her ability to manage Rhys.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Highland Chieftain - Hannah Howell (Zebra - Oct 2016)

Series: Highland - Murray Clan (Book 23)

Responsible for protecting her younger siblings from their abusive father, Bethoc Matheson is in no position to rescue another soul in Scotland. Yet when she sees a bleeding man on the verge of drowning, that’s exactly what she does, securing him safely in a cave where she can return day after day to tend to his wounds.

Sir Callum MacMillan can scarcely believe such a slight lass as Bethoc could save him from the grasp of death. But he knows the telltale marks of an angry fist on her skin, and he knows she has the soul of a fighter within her feminine frame. Raised to be a protector of the weak by his Murray clansmen, Callum would prefer to be the one saving her -- and save her, he will. If he can first survive the treacherous attack that led him into her irresistible arms . . .

This is the first Murray book I have read in a while and I loved it, as it reminded me of why I like these books so much. There is a lot that happens throughout the book. It opens with our hero fighting for survival, as he was beaten and tossed in the water to die. He's too stubborn to go out that way and manages to get to shore before collapsing in pain from his injuries, including a broken leg. He is found by Bethoc, who is out walking with her little sister. She manages to get him to her safe place, a cave where he can hide while recovering. She promises to come as often as she can to care for him.

Bethoc is the oldest child of her household, followed by five brothers and her baby sister. Their father is an abusive man, who beats them often. She would like to escape, but can't leave her siblings unprotected, so she endures. When her father brings home yet another "brother" to help with the farm, she finally begins to question where the boys have come from. The mystery gets deeper when she discovers that the new lad is the same boy that Callum had been protecting.

There is a connection between Bethoc and Callum from the very beginning. In spite of the abuse she has received, she instinctively trusts Callum. Both of them have dark pasts that have affected their lives. Callum was one of the boys rescued in an earlier book (Highland Angel) who had suffered from terrible abuse. Since his rescue he has become a staunch defender of women and children, frequently taking in orphans and finding them new homes. His temper can get the best of him when he sees abuses happening, which reinforces his belief that he has a dark soul. Bethoc's own abuses have taught her to be cautious. Her mother's deathbed confession that Kerr is not Bethoc's father has made her wonder about the man who is, but she has no way to find out. Bethoc has become very protective of her "brothers" and her little sister.

Over the weeks that it takes Callum's leg to mend, Bethoc visits as often as she dares. Callum learns a lot about Bethoc's life and is unhappy that he is in no condition to rescue her. He is shocked to discover that he knows her true father, a member of the Murray clan, and tries to convince Bethoc that she must meet him. Callum's friends find him part way through the healing process, and agree that he is probably safer where he is while they try to find the men who attacked him.

The attraction between Callum and Bethoc continues to grow. He can't stop himself from kissing her, and it isn't long before things progress even further. Bethoc believes that this is something that will only last until he is well enough to leave. Callum knows that he should leave her alone, but can't seem to help himself. He also keeps trying to figure out ways to keep her with him, even though he doesn't know why he wants to. Just when it looks like he's able to take Bethoc and her brothers and sister to his home with him, the men who attacked him make a reappearance.

This time they have tortured and killed her stepfather, and framed her for the murder. The things that she endures as she is held and "questioned" by the local sheriff are horrifying. She has no idea if Callum will be able to find and rescue her before it is too late. This section of the book is intense, with the danger to her increasing by the minute. I loved Callum's determination to save her. It was quite satisfying to see how he pulled it off, with the aid of his friends. In the midst of the tension, there are a few lighter moments that relieve the intensity. There are a couple of twists that cause a resurgence of the danger, with rescue this time coming from an unexpected source.

A quick visit to meet her father is followed by Callum taking her and some of her brothers to his home. They continue as lovers, with Callum happy to have her with him, but feeling like there is something missing. Various family members question his intentions, but he doesn't know what to tell them. I was a little frustrated with Callum by this point because he is so oblivious to what is going on inside him. He knows he wants to keep her with him, but can't figure out what it means. Even talking to his friends, he is stubbornly blind to what they try to tell him. Meanwhile, Bethoc has realized that she loves Callum, but wants more than what he seems willing to give her. She doesn't want to lose him, but she can't go on like this forever. I loved his friends' last ditch effort to get him to see the truth. His big moment at the end was sweet and a bit awkward as he finally realized his fear and faced it. A great epilogue brought it all together.

I loved the secondary characters. Callum's friends, who are as protective and honorable as he is, provide support and some of the lighter moments of the book. I loved seeing each of them try to make Callum see the truth about his feelings for Bethoc. I loved their protectiveness toward Bethoc and the others. Robbie was especially nice to watch as he found his own future. Bethoc's "brothers" were terrific. I enjoyed seeing how they watched out for and protected each other. Their protectiveness reached new heights as their "father's" abuse grew worse. The most engaging was wee Margaret, with her stubbornness, sweetness and loving nature. She has several scene-stealing moments that had me grinning in delight. After the discovery that he was Bethoc's father, I expected a little more involvement from Brett Murray. I found his hands off attitude a little puzzling, and expected at least a little pressure put on Callum to "do the right thing". I liked seeing some of the other Murray couples again, especially the ladies' acceptance and support of Bethoc and her "gift".