Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year

Reviews for 2015 can be found here.

The Cowboy's Christmas Baby - Carolyn Brown (Sourcebooks Casablanca - Sept 2013)

Series: Cowboys and Brides (Book 2)

'Tis the season for...

A pistol-totin' woman who's no angel
A tough rancher who doesn't believe in miracles
Love that warms the coldest nights

After a year in Kuwait, Lucas Allen can't wait to get back to his ranch for Christmas and meet his gorgeous Internet pal in person.

When he pulls in, there's Natalie Clark right in his front yard with a pink pistol in her hand and a dead coyote at her feet.

Lucas is unfazed. But that a BABY in her arms?

Fun book full of sassy romance and quirky characters. Lucas has arrived home from his deployment a couple days early, ready to surprise his family. He's also looking forward to meeting the girl he got to know over the internet in person, when she arrives in a few days. But there are a lot more surprises than he expected when he arrives to find the family gone, and Natalie already there. She's standing there with a pistol in her hand, a dead coyote at her feet, and a baby in her arms, just as stunned to see him. 

Lucas was introduced to Natalie, via Skype, by his tentmate, who was also Natalie's best friend. When Drew was killed by an IED, Lucas was the one who told her and became her friend also. He's spent the last few months building up dreams and hopes that come crashing down when he sees her with the baby. He's angry that she didn't tell him before, hurt that there must be someone she cares for more, and jealous of the baby.

Natalie is stunned to see Lucas show up early. She and the family had big plans for his homecoming and now it's all ruined. She knows she should have told him about the baby, but she hadn't been able to figure out how. She wants to explain, but he won't listen. Now he's just making her mad with his reaction. She's ready to walk away from the ranch and Lucas, but the family housekeeper/cook has been hurt and has made Natalie promise to stay and look after them until she's better.

I loved Natalie. She's a strong, sassy woman who has no trouble standing up for herself. She doesn't take Lucas's attitude for long, and soon pushes back. I like the way she owns up to her mistakes, then moves on and expects him to also. She'd spent most of the last months getting to know Lucas online and falling for what she saw. Lucas in person is even better, and her attraction to him is sizzling.

Lucas was fantastic. I felt for him, with the shock he received when he got home. He's still dealing with the loss of his friend and had been looking forward to holding Natalie. It isn't surprising that he loses his cool for awhile. Once he cools off and he and Natalie have a chance to talk, his true nature begins to reassert itself. He is really quite a gentleman and a romantic too.

The development of their relationship was quite well done. They already knew each other pretty well, but there are some things that have to be experienced in person. Though they start out ticked off at each other, it doesn't take too long for them to move forward. I loved seeing them together, from their cooperation with the ranch work to caring for the baby to acting on their attraction. Both of them were cautious about confessing their feelings, worried that the other didn't feel the same way. I really enjoyed Lucas's efforts for Christmas and how he tried to plan each little detail. The ending is really sweet with them finally having the courage to reach for their dreams.

There is also a great theme of family running throughout the book. Both Natalie and Lucas are close to their families. Though she spends a fair amount of time avoiding her own family, Natalie thinks of them quite often. I enjoyed the conversations she had with her mother, and how Natalie tried to keep control of her own life. Lucas's family was a lot of fun. The three older men were really sweet with the way they took to baby Josh. I loved seeing them fuss over who got to hold him or take care of him. It was also fun to see them try their hands at matchmaking. Lucas has dreams of having his own family, but fears it will never happen, thanks to an ex-girlfriend. There's a great twist at the end that is the direct result of her actions, but it helps bring Lucas and Natalie together.

There are quite a few laugh out loud moments in the book. Natalie's refusal to be intimidated by Lucas's ex was very fun to read. There were several funny scenes involving animals and their determination to get in the house and the havoc they created. I also enjoyed Hazel the housekeeper's long distance interference, and her arrival back home once she's healed. The interactions among characters were fun and moving and just plain terrific reading.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Snowed in with Her Ex - Andrea Laurence (HD #2349 - Jan 2015)

Series: Brides and Belles (Book 1)

Trapped in a cabin with the man who makes her want what she shouldn't have…

Wedding photographer Briana Harper never expected to run into her ex at an engagement shoot! And when a blizzard strands them…alone…in a remote mountain cabin, she knows she's in trouble. She's never forgotten Ian Lawson, but none of the reasons they broke up have changed. He's still a workaholic. And now he's an engaged workaholic!

But Ian is also still a man who knows what he wants. And what he wants is Briana. Untangling the lies of his current engagement leaves him free to…indulge. Yet proving he's changed may be this music mogul's toughest negotiation yet…

Excellent reunion story. Briana is a wedding photographer and not exactly happy to find that her latest assignment is engagement photos for her ex and his new fiancee. Seeing him again for the first time in nine years shows her that the attraction is still there. Getting snowed in with him is the last thing she needs. Ian is surprised to see Bree, and also disturbed by her presence. He thought he'd gotten over her long ago, but he's discovering just the opposite. 

The history that Ian and Bree shared exposed issues that neither had yet gotten past. Bree had left Ian because he became like her father, work obsessed to the point where he would forget dates, events, and anything outside of his work. Ian had been happy as a musician until his adviser told him he wasn't good enough to make a career of it. This brought back his feelings of insecurity, caused by the rejection he felt over his father's desertion of their family. He was desperate to do well at the record label job he got, and devoted everything to it, expecting Bree to understand. When she left, it was more rejection in his eyes.

Their forced time together at the cabin enables them to clear the air somewhat, and the end of his engagement, opens up possibilities for the future. First they have to be able to overcome those problems that tore them apart to start with.

I loved their time together at the cabin. Bree did pretty well coping with being snowed in, but Ian was a bit of a basket case at first. I loved their comments to each other about their individual technological lives. The Monopoly game was fun - I loved their "money". I really liked seeing Bree get Ian to play his guitar again. I felt bad for Ian when his engagement ended, not because it ended, but why. I was impressed with his willingness to do the right thing, and sorry for him when it backfired. It did free him up so that they could pursue their attraction and see where it might lead.

Once they return to Nashville, Bree is still wary of Ian's ability to change, but is willing to give him a chance. Things are looking up when they attend one of Ian's friend's parties, in spite of an encounter with his ex-fiancee. But things go downhill fast when a late visit by the ex at work delays Ian from making an appearance at Bree's show. She's hurt and furious and both of them say things that they later regret. I felt bad for Ian because he really had tried and Bree wouldn't even let him explain. I felt like she should have at least done that much, but considering she expected him to fail I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I loved seeing Ian's housekeeper fuss over and at him, and the motivation it gave him to go after Bree. His go big moment was sweet and romantic, and so nerve wracking for him!

Her Colton Lawman - Carla Cassidy (HRS #1823 - Nov 2014)

Series: Coltons: Return to Wyoming (Book 2)

Catch up with the crime-fighting Coltons

Witnessing a murder plunges Nina Owens into nerve-shattering danger. Police chief Flint Colton is sure the perp is taking down witnesses, so the handsome cop orders Nina into protective his home And while she's grateful to him, Nina just can't shake her deep distrust of police. But all that falls away when Flint's scintillating kiss awakens something deep within her.

As Thanksgiving approaches with Dead River quarantined, the search for a missing child puts Nina and the killer on a collision course. She knows Flint is haunted by a past failure to save a witness...and that he'll put himself in the line of fire before he ever lets her down.

Loved this book. The action and suspense were nonstop right from the beginning and the relationship between Flint and Nina was great. As the book starts, Dead River is still under quarantine, the murderer is still on the loose, and the man who stole a priceless heirloom ring is also still missing. Flint has his hands full trying to keep peace in the town while searching for the fugitives. The only mental breaks he gets are when he stops at the diner for a meal and can indulge himself by being near Nina, who he's been attracted to since he came back to Dead River. 

Nina and her diner are among the most popular in town. She's always cheerful, has a kind word for everyone, and looks out for her employees. She's also a very private person about her past. She's attracted to Flint, but because of issues in her past, won't allow herself to fall for a man in law enforcement. But when she witnesses a brutal murder, and her house is burned down as a warning, she has to accept Flint's protection.

Forced into each other's company, Flint and Nina really get to know each other over the next several weeks. I loved watching Nina's distrust start to dissolve as she learned more about Flint. Because of her experience seeing the dysfunctional relationship between her parents, she has resolved that she will never marry and have a family of her own, but her attraction to Flint is hard to resist. Staying with him gives her a taste of what could be, but she's still afraid to trust completely. I really liked seeing her doubts put to rest by a comment from a little boy. I also liked seeing her relationships with her friends. She is such a warm and loving person that I was really rooting for her and Flint to make a go of it. I loved her excitement over her Thanksgiving plans. The aftermath showed just how much other people loved her.

Having Nina live with him was a dream come true for Flint. His attraction to her has been a big part of him for a year, and this is his chance to get to know her. He also knows that he has to be extra vigilant, and not allow himself to be distracted. Before he came home to Dead River he had lost a witness he had been assigned to protect, and that failure haunts him. As he overcomes her initial coolness, Flint begins to dream of what it would be like to have Nina in his life permanently. I loved seeing how determined he was to take care of her, not just protect her. He was very attuned to her moods, and it was sweet to see him try to cheer her up on those rare occasions she was down. He was so ready to settle down with her, but overcoming her fears was going to be a real challenge.

The suspense of the story had me riveted throughout. Nina's witnessing of the murder and loss of her house to arson, started things out with a rush. Seeing Flint and his men working so hard to find him, and running into so many obstacles, had me wondering if they would ever catch a break. The hijacking of the school bus and confrontation with the murderer was intense, but had an unexpected twist to it. The issue of the virus is ongoing, and the stress is getting to everyone. The realism of people's actions and reactions was awesome, and made me feel as though this could really happen. I'm looking forward to the next book and seeing how it all turns out.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Secret Colton Baby - Karen Whiddon (HRS #1820 - Oct 2014)

Series: Coltons: Return to Wyoming (Book 1)

A new additon to Wyoming's most scandalous family

Is Theo Colton the father of a baby dropped at his doorstep by a dying socialite? Even more shocked than the sexy bronc-riding champ is his beautiful cook, Ellie Parker. Just as she becomes the baby's nanny, she discovers a terrifying stalker has followed her to Dead River.

What's worse -- as a mysterious virus quarantines the town, danger goes viral, too. But to Theo and Ellie, the biggest dangers are their sizzling attraction and profound new feelings. Can Ellie tame the cowboy who wants nothing more than a wild ride with women? Or must she deny her heart to save his life?

Overall, a good book, though I had a couple of minor issues with it. Theo Colton came home to Wyoming after a career ending injury during a rodeo. He's trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life, when a woman from his past shows up. She has an infant daughter that she claims is his, then collapses and dies of an unknown virus.

Ellie fled her home in Boulder, Colorado, trying to escape from a stalker. She was in Dead River when her car died, but was lucky enough to get hired as Theo's ranch cook. She was there when baby Amelia arrived and stepped in to act as the baby's nanny. Later that night she was terrified to discover that her stalker has followed her.

Theo had always been a footloose guy. His rodeo career allowed him to avoid the idea of settling down, and there were always plenty of women to enjoy. He always made sure they knew he doesn't commit to anyone. When his rodeo injuries made it impossible to not only continue as a bronc rider but to ride at all, Theo is left wondering what to do. He's never considered anything else. Being confronted with fatherhood has him reeling for a second time. It takes him a little while to accept the truth, but he is slowly won over to being a daddy. I really loved seeing his transformation. Having Ellie's help is what makes it all possible. He had been attracted to her as soon as he met her, but knew he had to keep his distance. But his protectiveness comes out as the danger to her increases, and being near her makes him question his old lifestyle. He's beginning to picture a future with Ellie and Amelia, if he can just keep her safe long enough.

Ellie has also been attracted to Theo, but knows that there's no future with him. When her stalker appears in Dead River, she worries about the safety of the baby and Theo, and is ready to leave again. Theo promises to protect them, and she agrees to stay. She quickly falls for baby Amelia, and is determined to make sure that Theo gives her the life she deserves. As she spends more time with him and the baby, she sees a different side to him come out. She also sees his frustration with his injuries and how they've changed his life, and tries to make him see that he still has a lot to give.

The romance between Ellie and Theo has a lot of chemistry moving it along. Fortunately, they are also given the time to get to know each other, so they have more than just the physical binding them together. I loved the thoughtfulness that came out in Theo as he began to accept his feelings for Ellie. I really loved his Halloween surprise for her. 

The suspense aspect of the book also kept things going for me. The stalker story line was pretty good, as his actions against Ellie escalated. The identity of the stalker was not a huge surprise, even though we had never met him. I was pretty sure of where he must have come from. That story line is resolved by the end of the book. There are two others that are ongoing. There is an escaped murderer that has not yet been recaptured, so will most likely make a reappearance in the next book. The biggest issue is the virus that has caused the town to be quarantined. It arrived with the mother of Theo's baby, and has made many people sick, with some fatalities. Theo's brother Flint is the sheriff who has to deal with the panic in the town along with the headaches of enforcing the quarantine. Their sister Gemma is a nurse at the clinic where the sick are being treated and the search for a cure is getting desperate. I am looking forward to their stories.

My issues with the book were pretty minor, but irritating. They would have been easily fixed by an editor's attention to detail. Two that stick in my mind were when Theo was talking about a horse's confirmation rather that conformation, and Ellie was thinking about the need to sack money away for the future rather than sock it away. There were a couple timing questions that briefly confused me, too. None of them were bad enough to ruin the story, but they did pull me out of it temporarily. The title was somewhat misleading, as there was really nothing secret about the baby. I would also like to know the relationship of these Coltons to the other Wyoming Coltons, especially as they live in the same area, but it was never mentioned.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Just a Cowboy and His Baby - Carolyn Brown (Sourcebooks Casablanca - Dec 2012)

Series: Spikes & Spurs (Book 6)

She's Got Her Eyes on the Prize...
Gemma O'Donnell wasn't the first woman to win the ProRodeo buckle for bronc riding, but she was darn well going to be the second. What she didn't count on was her main competition sweeping her off her feet.

He'll Do Whatever It Takes To Win...
Trace Coleman isn't really after a title -- he needs the cash prize to buy his dream ranch. But one sexy, determined cowgirl keeps getting in his way. In his effort to take her out of the running, he risks losing both the title -- and his heart.

They're Both in For a Little Surprise...
Everybody's world is turned upside down when a pint-sized bundle of joy gets dropped right into Trace's lap...and suddenly all the stakes are higher.

Fun book to read. Gemma has put her hairdresser career on hold to follow a dream. She wants to be the second woman to win the title for bronc riding and take home the prize money. She'll then buy herself some land, start her own ranch, and find that cowboy and baby that's been predicted for her. She's doing very well, with only one other competitor really in her way.

Trace also has a dream. He wants to win enough money to buy his uncle's ranch. But in this series of rodeos he's in a fight for first place with Gemma. He figures that a little flirtation might distract her enough to give him the edge. He doesn't count on the effect she has on him.

I loved Trace and Gemma. She is feisty and determined and isn't going to let anything get in her way. Her first encounter with Trace shakes her up a bit. There are sparks when he touches her and she has to work hard not to let them distract her. Trace had been attempting to do just that, but it backfired when he found that he couldn't get her off his mind. That came in handy when he found himself rescuing her during a post rodeo dance. Trace seems pretty self-centered up to that point, with his confidence and his adoring groupies, but when Gemma passes out in his arms, he is the perfect gentleman. I loved the care he took of her.

This was the start of the relationship between Gemma and Trace. Though they remain fierce rivals in the rodeo ring, outside of it they become terrific friends. They have a lot in common and I loved seeing them learn about each other. The more time they spent with each other, the greater the attraction was, until they couldn't help but act on it. Each of them started to dream of the future, but neither wanted to rock the boat until the competition was over.

I loved the part where, between two of the rodeos, they went to help Trace's uncle on his ranch. They were each assigned ten at risk kids from the city. Gemma had the girls and Trace had the boys. I loved seeing how great they were with those kids. There was lots of fun banter, competitions between the kids, and some life lessons learned by all of them. Gemma and Trace also learned a bit about themselves as they were helping the kids.

The baby of the title shows up late in the book, though its story is not a surprise. There are hints throughout the book about what is going to happen. I loved Trace's reaction and the way he immediately stepped up. It was also fun to see him cope with not having a clue how to take care of a baby. He was so sweet and so determined. Gemma's presence and willingness to help him, made him care for her even more.

Gemma's feelings for Trace had been getting stronger the longer they were together. I loved seeing her dreams of the future adjust to the changes in her emotions. I also liked the way that her determination to win didn't change, but she also saw other possibilities. I loved the ending with the final competition and the events that unfolded after it. Trace had a much bigger romantic streak than I expected.

Another thing I enjoyed about the book was how important family was to both Gemma and Trace. It was fun to see how each of them coped with the attitudes of various family members, especially their mothers. I also had fun with how Gemma's girlfriends reacted to her relationship with Trace and the teasing she endured. It was great to see all the support that Gemma and Trace had for both their careers and their relationship.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Devil of Clan Sinclair - Karen Ranney (Avon - Aug 2013)

Series: Clan Sinclair (Book 1)

To Dance with the Devil...

For Virginia Traylor, Countess of Barrett, marriage was merely the vehicle to buy her father a title. Widowhood, however, brings a host of problems. For her husband deliberately spent the money intended for Virginia and her in-laws, leaving them penniless -- unless she produces an heir. Desperate and confused, Virginia embarks on a fateful journey that brings her to the doorstep of the only man she's ever loved...

Hes known as the Devil, but Macrath Sinclair doesn't care. He moved to a tiny Scottish village in hopes of continuing his work as an inventor and starting a family of his own. He bought the house; he chose the woman. Unfortunately, Virginia didn't choose him. Macrath knows he should turn her away now, but she needs him, and he wants her more than ever. Whatever game Virginia's playing, Macrath intends to win...

I had mixed feelings about this book. Overall, I liked it. The first half was rather slow and a bit hard to stay interested in. The beginning would also have a chapter or two of the present time, then a chapter of flashback for the backstory, another chapter or two in the present, then flashback, etc. This went on for quite a while. I prefer my backstory mostly all at once - the constant back and forth was sometimes hard to follow. Things definitely picked up in the second half and I enjoyed it much more at that point.

Virginia was an American heiress, brought to London by her father to marry a man with a title. He didn't care what she wanted, she would basically go to the highest bidder. In the meantime, Virginia had met a Scottish man, a self-made millionaire, who understood her. They would meet at balls or other places where she could escape, and talk about politics, science, literature or anything that caught their fancy. They fell in love, but her father wouldn't even consider Macrath as a suitor. She was forced to marry the earl and forbidden to see or speak to Macrath.

Less than a year later, her husband was dead, and she discovered that all the money she had brought to the marriage had been used to purchase land that was then left to the cousin who inherited the title. Virginia and her mother- and sisters-in-law, were left with nothing unless Virginia had produced a son. Her mother-in-law, whom I DID NOT like at all, convinced her that she needed to quickly find a man who could get her pregnant with a child she could pass off as her husband's. Virginia did not like that idea at all, but could see no other option to keep them from becoming destitute. So she ran off to Scotland to try to seduce Macrath.

Macrath was stunned to see Virginia show up at Drumvagen. He had been unable to forget her after her marriage and had buried himself in his work. He was happy to have her there and hoped to make her want to stay. He was very willing to show her "how it's supposed to be between a man and a woman". After just a few days he's devastated to find out she has no intention of staying in Scotland, but returning to London. They part ways, and he heads off to Australia on business and she returns to London to take care of her family.

Unsurprisingly, she does end up pregnant and has a son, who the world assumes is her husband's. The baby is just a few months old when smallpox sweeps through London and Virginia becomes quite ill. Macrath returns to London about that time, and discovering the truth about the child, takes the baby back to Scotland while Virginia is ill, without telling her. She chases after him before she is fully recovered. When she arrives, he is still furious at her deception and refuses to allow her in the house or to see the baby. Over the next couple weeks she is stuck in a cottage on the estate and still unable to see the baby. By this point, Virginia has finally started to find a backbone and refuses to be kept away. I really enjoyed her determination and seeing what she does.

Over the next few weeks, Macrath begins to soften toward Virginia a little as he sees what a good mother she really is. Virginia also sees Macrath's happiness in being a father. But she still refuses to consider staying in Scotland, determined to keep up the deception and protect her family. It is getting harder for each of them, as their feelings for each other have only gotten stronger. The conflict could have been greatly reduced if she had just told him what the problem was.

Things were also complicated by her late husband's personal assistant, who was obsessed with Virginia. He was determined to have her for himself, and willing to do anything to get her. Over the course of the book he went from creepy to obsessed to dangerous. His appearance in Scotland added a layer of intensity that finally brought Macrath and Virginia together.

Virginia irritated me through most of the book because of her unwillingness to tell Macrath what was going on. She did have redeeming qualities. I liked her determination to take care of her son herself, no turn him over to nannies and we nurses. She was also kind to her in-laws, even though the mother-in-law was a piece of work. I didn't like that woman at all. Virginia was also pretty down-to-earth. She really didn't care about the benefits of the title. But until she became a mother, I found her to be rather a doormat.

Macrath I liked a lot. He made something of himself through his own hard work. He was true to himself, not trying to change to fit in with the aristocracy. I liked the way he treated Virginia like an intelligent human being when they had their discussions in the first part of the book. I completely understood his anger when he found out about the baby. I even understood his actions when Virginia came to Scotland, even though I felt he could have handled things a little better. I liked seeing him soften toward her, and realize that he still wanted her in his life. I thought his pursuit of her was pretty sweet.