Monday, March 31, 2014

Josh - Delores Fossen (HI #1485 - Apr 2014)

Series: Lawmen of Silver Creek Ranch (Book 7)

FBI agent turned Texas deputy Josh Ryland is stunned to find pregnant hostages on a routine check for suspicious activity at a remote ranch. Even more shocking is the identity of one of the captives. Five months ago, Josh and FBI special agent Jaycee Finney shared a weekend of passion that ended badly. Now she's in danger -- and claims he's her baby's father.

Jaycee owes Josh the truth. After her unwitting reckless behavior almost got him killed, the cowboy cop has good reason not to trust her. But with the ruthless mastermind of a black market baby ring gunning for her, it's Jaycee who has to trust Josh with her life…and the life of their child.

Very good book that grabbed me from the first page.  Josh is a former FBI agent who has come home to Silver Creek to recover from injuries sustained in an operation that went bad.  He's taken a leave of absence and is working as a deputy for his cousins in the sheriff's department.  While on a stakeout checking on suspicious activity, he is surprised to find fellow FBI agent Jaycee as one of the captives, and even more surprised to see that she's pregnant.

Josh is determined to get Jaycee and the other women to safety, but he's hesitant to trust Jaycee with anything more than getting her out of danger.  She is the reason his last operation went bad, by getting involved in an investigation by herself, not knowing there were already undercover agents in place.  He nearly died from his injuries and is still experiencing pain and flashbacks.  

Jaycee is carrying a lot of guilt over her actions and she really wants a chance to explain herself to Josh.  She also needs to tell him that the baby she's carrying is his, the result of a night of passion just before he got shot.  Thankful for her rescue, she wants to redeem herself by helping Josh take down the black market baby ring that had kidnapped her and others.  She doesn't expect that the attraction she felt for Josh is still there and stronger than ever.

Josh really wants to protect Jaycee and the baby she's carrying.  He wants to lock her up some place safe, but knows her well enough that he knows it will never happen.  I loved seeing them try to fight their attraction while at the same time working together.  Both of them had to decide how much of the past to allow to influence their future.

The investigation itself was pretty intense, with frequent attempts by the bad guys to get Jaycee back in their hands.  There were several people who could have been the mastermind and I went back and forth in my belief as to just who it was.  The final confrontation kept me hooked until everything came together.

I loved revisiting the Ryland clan as they all got involved in solving this mystery.  Once again we see how important family is to all the Rylands, and how they are there to support each other personally and professionally.  

Wanting What She Can't Have - Yvonne Lindsay (HD #2237 - Apr 2014)

Series: Master Vintners (Book 5)

Craving the Forbidden…

Billionaire Raoul Benoit lets Alexis Fabrini, his late wife's best friend, become his daughter's nanny for one reason only: the baby deserves love and attention. Raoul doesn't -- he has to pay for his sins, which means steering clear of Alexis no matter how much he wants her.

The least Alexis can do is help out with this child. But she can't let herself fall into bed with Raoul. She's lived with her unrequited feelings for a long time -- what's a little while longer? The problem is, the feelings are more than requited, and can no longer be denied….

This was a very emotional story.  Alexis has come to Raoul to offer her services as his daughter's nanny.  His wife had been her best friend and she had received a letter from her written before Bree's death, asking her to watch over Raoul and Ruby if anything happened to her.  It  took a year for the letter to catch up with her, but she's determined to fulfill her friend's request.  She doesn't expect Raoul's antagonism or the way he avoids any contact with his daughter.

There was so much emotional turmoil going on with both Alexis and Raoul.  Alexis and Bree had been best friends since kindergarten.  Alexis met Raoul after he and Bree were already engaged.  She was immediately attracted to him but refused to do anything to come between them.  It was hard to see them together and she became more and more envious, so in order to protect her heart she started pulling away from her friendship with Bree.  Eventually she broke ties completely, so the letter from Bree came as a surprise.  It was more of a shock when she discovered that Bree had died shortly after sending that letter.  Alexis's guilty feelings for not being there for her friend were intense, and added to the guilt she felt about her feelings for Raoul she was determined to fulfill her friend's wishes.  She was shocked to discover that Raoul had cut himself off from everyone, including his baby girl.  I really loved seeing the way that she orchestrated taking over Ruby's care, forcing Raoul to have them staying at his house.  She was heartsick over his withdrawal and determined to find a way to get past the walls he had built up.  She was also determined to do all this without giving him any idea of her own feelings.  Unfortunately, she discovered that the attraction was mutual, even if the feelings weren't.

Raoul has buried himself in his work, using it to avoid dealing with his wife's death and his daughter's care.  He feels completely responsible for Bree's death, as she died of an aneurysm during childbirth.  That he didn't know she had this health issue gives him no relief, as he felt she went through the pregnancy because she knew how much he wanted children.  Now he's afraid to love anyone else, including his daughter, for fear that he would lose them too.  Ruby had been very sick when she was first born and that only reinforced his fears.  Now he has to deal with Alexis wanting him to change the way he feels.  It doesn't help that he's attracted to her and that is causing cracks in the walls around his heart.  Admitting his attraction to her he insists that anything between them will be physical only, that there is no chance that he will ever get emotionally involved or married again.

You just know with a statement like that, that Raoul is setting himself up for a massive fall.  I loved seeing the way that Alexis managed to slowly get Raoul more involved in Ruby's care.  Some of the methods were blatant, others were very subtle, but all worked on him a little bit at a time.  She also worked hard at getting Raoul out of his isolation and back into interacting with other people.  She felt she owed it to Bree to help him as best she could.  What she didn't count on was having her feelings of attraction grow into a deep love for him.  When that love had unintended consequences that brought all his fears back to the surface, his reaction devastated Alexis.  The scenes where he pushed her away and her reaction to everything he said and did had me going through multiple tissues.  With all that unhappiness, seeing Raoul finally let go of his anger and fear and go after Alexis made for a wonderful HEA.

I loved seeing Tamsyn and Finn from The High Price of Secrets and their parts in helping Alexis.  I loved Alexis's father and his support and protectiveness, and what he said to Raoul at the end.  The only thing that might have improved the book would have been an epilogue.  I would like to know more about how he ended up handling everything that was happening to him.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Her Soldier Protector - Soraya Lane (HR #4420 - Apr 2014)

Series: Soldier's Homecoming (Book 2)

From different worlds…

Australian SAS hero Logan Murdoch has served his country well, but now he needs a break. Acting as bodyguard for singer Candace Evans should be easy, but something about Candace makes him long to hold her close and protect her from the world.

Candace has learned never to trust men, and even though Logan seems perfect, she can see the demons he tries to hide. She's suffered too much hurt to open herself up for more, but will Candace be able to keep her distance when every fiber of her being pulls her toward Logan?

Very good book. The depth of emotion as both Logan and Candace deal with their pasts made this a very heartwarming story. Logan is back home after his final tour in the Middle East.  He's set to retire soon, but in the meantime the army has assigned him and his dog Ranger to be security for American singer Candace.  He wasn't real excited about it at first, but it was better than what he had been doing.  His first glimpse of Candace changed his attitude completely.  First, he couldn't believe how beautiful she was, but mostly he could see that she was terrified about something.  His protective instincts kicked in and he wanted to do everything he could to help her.

Candace has been receiving threats and it has been wearing on her emotionally.  She loves singing for her fans but everything else has exhausted her.  From the first she feels safe with Logan and Ranger.  There is something about him that makes her feel better than she has in a long time.  But she's also misjudged men before and she's not sure that she can trust her own judgment. When she gets a taste of the demons he is fighting she knows she should keep her distance, but her heart is urging her forward.

I loved Logan.  I got a little exposure to him in The Returning Hero, as one of Brett and Sam's friends.  It was obvious at that time that he was still coping with his friend's death, but his love for his other friends still showed through.  I really enjoyed the way that he saw Candace's need to get away from the fuss for awhile.  His sneaking them away so that she could have a normal dinner out was great, and I loved the way that he treated her like a normal woman not a celebrity.  Their time at his house was great, but I felt so bad for the way it ended.  Logan is fighting against the memories of the loss of his parents and his friend by keeping everything locked away.  It comes out in nightmares, but he doesn't admit to anyone that he is having problems.  Being with Candace starts to shine some light in the dark corners of his life, but he refuses to believe that anything can come of it.  I loved seeing him open himself up to her and share some of those memories that haunt him.  But his fears keep him pushing her away.

Candace is very well grounded for a music superstar.  She isn't one of those demanding diva types.  Her fears because of the threats were really getting to her so feeling safe with Logan was very unusual for her.  She still tried to be cautious because she had had some really bad experiences with men.  I loved her disbelief that Logan could get them away without having to fight off photographers, and then her happiness when he succeeded.  Her ability to relax and enjoy their dinner was just what she needed.  She did give in to her fears when she experienced one of his nightmares, but I liked the way that she got back in contact with him right after.  I loved seeing her get to know Brett and Jamie and how well they got along with her.  It was great to see her take Logan's encouragement to heart and take control of her professional life.  When Logan offered her a couple days with him at his home in the Outback she snapped it up.  It was great to see them really connecting and the way it gave Candace hope for the future.  Those hopes started to fall apart after another episode, and especially when she stood up to Logan and told him what she thought he needed to hear.  I hurt for both of them after that.  I loved Candace's big moment at the end and what she did to show Logan how much she cared.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Finding Family ... and Forever? - Teresa Southwick (HSE #2320 - Mar 2014)

Series: Bachelors of Blackwater Lake (Book 1)

A dashing doctor hires the perfect nanny for his son, not realizing she's about to turn his entire world upside down! 

Kidnapped as an infant, Emma Robbins has come to Blackwater Lake to seek out her birth family. But she can't exactly just knock on their door and introduce herself! To bide her time, she fakes her identity and takes a job as a nanny for an adorable one-year old boy -- and his incredibly sexy doctor daddy. Now she's really gotten more than she bargained for….

Dr. Justin Flint has sworn off women since his divorce. And while she's the perfect caretaker for his little boy, having Emma under his roof is just way too tempting for the single dad! When an explosive kiss shatters their professional resolve, their mutual passion is revealed. But will their new affection distract Emma from her goal -- or make her realize she's found her once and future family?

Very good story about two people with some trust issues who find their way to each other.  There are a couple minor discrepancies in the above synopsis, but nothing that affected my enjoyment of the story.  When the woman she knew as her mother was dying, she told Emma that she had kidnapped her and raised her as her own.  She then told Emma who her parents were, leaving it up to Emma to decide what to do with that knowledge.  She heads to Blackwater Lake to see what she can find out about her family and if she should contact them.  In the meantime she needs a job, so she signs on to be the nanny to Justin Flint's little boy.  She doesn't tell him about her main reason for being in Blackwater Lake.

Justin's current nanny is leaving so he needs to find a replacement.  He's had some trouble with applicants who seem to be more interested in him than his son.  Since the death of his wife, with whom he'd been having problems, he has sworn off getting involved with another woman.  He prefers to concentrate his attention on his son.  While she is far younger and prettier than he wanted, Emma is the best candidate for the job, so he hires her.  Justin is very impressed with the way she cares for Kyle.  He also discovers that the attraction he felt for her when he met her isn't going away but is getting stronger.

Giving in to the explosive attraction between them only brings out the problems they face.  Emma still hasn't decided what to do about her family.  She's afraid that contacting them will cause them pain.  She also felt guilty about not telling Justin the whole truth when he hired her.  I liked seeing her come clean with him, and even better was his understanding and support. Emma also realizes that her feelings for Justin are getting stronger even though she knows that nothing can come of them.  He's made it very clear that he will never marry again.  Meanwhile, Justin is fighting his feelings for her.  He doesn't trust himself after messing up with his first wife.  I really loved seeing everything he went through at the end to be able to see her, it was the perfect ending.

One Night with the Boss - Teresa Southwick (HSE #2326 - Apr 2014)

Series: Bachelors of Blackwater Lake (Book 2)

It's not business. It's personal!

For years, executive assistant Olivia Lawson has been faithfully holding a torch for her hunky boss. But she doesn't need a memo to see she's stuck in the friend zone! Olivia decides she needs to look elsewhere for love. So she invents a long-distance boyfriend -- the perfect excuse to quit her job and move away -- and gives her two-weeks notice.

Tycoon Brady O'Keefe is stunned by the extent of emotion that Olivia's resignation releases! He soon discovers Olivia's boyfriend is a sham, but rather than tip his hand, Brady decides to romance -- and seduce -- her into staying. Now Olivia must choose whether to stick to her guns -- or follow her heart into the arms of the man she loves!

Very good book.  Olivia has had enough of waiting for Brady to notice her as a woman, submits her resignation, and prepares to move away.  She's tried twice before and he has always managed to talk her into staying, so this time she invents a boyfriend to help show him she's serious.  Brady can't believe she's actually going to leave this time.  He tries everything he can think of to get her to stay, but has no luck.  When he discovers that the boyfriend doesn't exist he decides to try romance and gets more than he bargained for.

I really liked both Olivia and Brady.  Olivia has been in love with Brady for years and living on the hope that he would eventually notice her as a woman, not just a friend.  After five years she's ready to give up.  She wants a home and family of her own and she realizes that she'll never get it with Brady. She has little confidence in her ability to stand up to him on her own, so she invents "Leonard", a man she met on a business trip to help make her point that she's leaving.  She feels guilty about lying, but she's desperate to get away.  She thinks she's finally got him convinced until he kisses her during one of their discussions.  She finally got one of her dreams fulfilled, but there's still no indication that he wants something lasting.  I loved the way that Olivia was so good at standing up to Brady in most things.  She was aware enough of her own weaknesses where he was concerned that she knew she needed some kind of backup plan to resist his efforts to keep her there.  It was fun to see her try to make things up as she went along, forgetting that Brady knew her well enough to suspect that there was something weird going on.  I loved seeing her take what she wanted after the employee celebration and ached for her as she gave up on her dream. 

Brady has kept a lid on his emotions for years, equating love with loss.  He lost his father to a massive heart attack his last year in college and his best friend soon after that.  He and Olivia have known each other all their lives and she has been the best assistant he could ever have. He hates change, and when she has tried to quit before he has always been able to talk her into staying.  He is stunned when she insists that this time she will leave whether he likes it or not.  I loved seeing him try to delay her departure by refusing to hire a replacement and seeing her thwart him at every turn.  He's really surprised by her claim of a boyfriend since he's never heard her talk about Leonard before and is a bit suspicious of her refusal to tell him anything.  I loved how he got caught snooping.  Brady doesn't understand why he's suddenly so irritated by the thought of Olivia with a boyfriend or looking at her as something other than a friend.  I loved seeing his pride push him into kissing her to prove a point and totally losing control of himself.  Discovering that Leonard doesn't exist made him decide to try to seduce her into staying, thinking if they could sleep together and get it out of their systems everything could go back to normal.  He's blown away by what happens between them and retreats in fear of the strength of his emotions.  I loved seeing his confusion as he tried to deal with it all.  I loved seeing his sister try to explain things to him and had to smile when he finally got it.  The ending was pretty sweet.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Cowboy's Destiny - Marin Thomas (HAR #1498 - May 2014)

Series: Cash Brothers (Book 4)


Destiny Saunders is tough, but being left at the altar makes even the toughest gals do some strange things. When she stumbles upon a stranded cowboy -- Buck Owens Cash, the best thing to arrive in Lizard Gulch, Arizona, in a long time -- she arranges things so they can have a little fun before he rides off into the sunset. The sexy, shapely auto mechanic is just one surprise after another, so Buck plays along to see what will happen.

What happens is love…the kind that makes a man want to prove himself. Then Buck discovers Destiny's secret -- one that will tie her to another man for the rest of her life. Betrayed, he returns to the rodeo circuit determined to forget Destiny…but fate has other plans!

Another Cash brother bites the dust!  This is another fantastic entry into the the saga of the Cash Brothers.  Buck had done what his brother Will (Her Secret Cowboy) had said to do - left town.  After keeping the existence of Will's son a secret, Buck's guilty feelings have kept him on the road.  Then his truck breaks down and he's rescued by a woman wearing a bridal veil and riding a Harley.  After being left at the altar, Destiny is feeling a little reckless, so she tells Buck that it will be a few days until his truck is repaired, giving her a chance to have a bit of fun with him before he moves on.

I loved both Buck and Destiny.  Buck had done what he thought was right at the time, but it came back to bite him and put him at odds with his brother.  He's been feeling a bit restless anyway, working as a mechanic for someone else, so he decides to take the time to try to decide what he wants to do with his life.  Destiny is different than any other woman he'd ever been with and she soon has him tied up in knots.  I loved how he knew she was trying to keep him in town but played along.  He was quite happy to spend more time with her.  I loved seeing him get to know all the different facets of her personality and fall for each one of them.  He also saw her looking out for all the people of the town and wanted to be the one to look out for her.  It was great to see him recognize his love fairly early, then have to deal with his feelings after he discovered her secret.  I loved the part his brothers played in helping him.  One of the things I love most about Buck and the whole Cash family is how important family is to them.  I really liked the fact that Buck recognized that the people of Lizard Gulch were Destiny's family and how he tried to help them.  

Destiny had spent her life with a mother who was always on the move and as a result has been looking for a place to put down some roots of her own.  Lizard Gulch is a tiny town full of old people but she has come to love them like family.  She wasn't heartbroken when her groom stood her up, and when she came upon Buck on the side of the road she was immediately attracted to him.  As the town mechanic she was the one to look at his truck and she took the opportunity to stretch the truth about the repairs to keep him around for a few days.  She felt a little guilty about not telling him her secret, but since he wouldn't be staying she figured it didn't really matter.  She didn't expect to start to have feelings for him almost immediately, and then for him to find a reason to stick around a little longer.  She starts dreaming about having a future with Buck, but feels that her background makes it impossible for her to expect anything permanent with him.  She only seems to see the downside of her life and not the strong, independent and intelligent person she has become.  I loved seeing one of her old timers talk some sense into her.  I loved the scene at Buck's rodeo at the end.

The people of Lizard Gulch were wonderful and added such a wonderful dimension to the story.  Each one had a unique personality and place.  I really enjoyed the secondary story of the developer trying to take over the town and how the people were fighting back.  There were quite a few places that had me laughing and wondering what was going to happen next.  I loved the way that Destiny's other job as mayor showed her people skills and how quick thinking she was.  It also showed yet another aspect of how much love she had to give.  The love that the people had for her was obvious too, and seeing them all chase Buck down at the end was hilarious.  I can't wait for the next book!

Deadly Liaisons - Elle James (HRS #1797 - Apr 2014)

Series: Devil's Shroud (Book 3)

People have been known to perish at McGregor Manor...

Opening her B and B to a group of ghost hunters, Molly McGregor hopes the spirits rumored to be there will appear. She needs the weekend to be a financial success. But when disembodied voices and hazy images nearly lure her to her death, Molly's driven straight into the arms of a sexy but mysterious guest--Casanova Valdez.

Nova knows what it's like to be haunted--by memories of a case gone bad. As a secret agent, he's confident he can protect Molly but is not exactly sure he believes in ghosts. As the mysterious incidents targeting the gorgeous redhead become increasingly more dangerous, Nova must question if it's the handiwork of a ghost...or a killer.

Good book. I liked the suspense and the chemistry between Nova and Molly is great. Molly is hosting a ghost hunters weekend at her B and B when things start to get a little scarier than she expected.  First she hears voices calling for help in the fog. Then a "ghost" pushes her down the stairs. She's happy that secret agent Casanova Valdez is there to watch out for her.  Nova is there because his team just finished a mission there at Cape Churn (see Deadly Engagement).  He's supposed to leave the next day, but he's drawn to Molly and stays to keep her safe.

Molly loves her B and B.  It has been in her family for a long time and is the house she grew up in.  To keep from having to sell it, she turned it into a B and B, but she still struggles to make ends meet.  Because it is supposedly haunted, she's counting on this ghost weekend to bring in some needed revenue.  Nova is there with his team members and some locals having dinner to celebrate the end of their mission.  She can't keep her eyes off him, but she's aware of his reputation as a ladies' man.  When an accident with his car keeps him there for an extra night, the attraction they feel heats up.  He's there when she is pushed down the stairs, and since he doesn't believe in ghosts he suspects one of the ghost hunters.  Molly is happy to have him staying close to her as strange things continue to happen.  Molly is happy to have Nova there, and is certainly enjoying having him close, but she is trying very hard not to depend on him too much.  She's lost enough people in her life that she feels it's better to count on no one else being there for her.  I loved the way that she found herself dreaming of what it would be like if he stayed.  I really liked the way that her enthusiasm for her home and her town were so evident in the way she talked about them to others.  Her independent spirit also gave her the ability to stay calm in a crisis, which came in very handy!

Nova hadn't been able to keep his attention off Molly during dinner.  Besides her beauty he was really impressed with the way she kept things running smoothly.  He just kind of rolls his eyes at the ghost hunters since he doesn't believe in ghosts.  He has even fewer reasons to believe later that night when someone pushed Molly down the stairs.  I loved the way that he immediately jumped in to take care of her and even help out at the B and B.  As the weekend went on and strange things kept happening he was determined to protect her.  I loved seeing him go from a love 'em and leave 'em kind of guy to one who is actually thinking about putting down roots.  He has to overcome the demons of his past, especially the death of the woman he had loved and whose death he felt responsible for.  I loved seeing him do all kinds of things he would have never considered before and the satisfaction it brought to him. It was great to see how his whole attitude changed the closer he got to Molly.

The mystery was very well done.  From the cut brake line to the final showdown I was completely involved in the story.  There were two things going on - the ghost hunting and the attacks on Nova and Molly and the need to see if they were related.  I loved all the descriptions of the ghost hunt and the stories of the various ghosts.  The seance was really spooky and the things that happened during it gave me goosebumps.  The mystery of the attacks was also great.  I had a feeling I knew who was behind them, but there were enough questions that I wasn't completely positive.  I really liked the epilogue and hearing the results of the ghost hunt.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When She Said I Do - Celeste Bradley (St. Martins - Feb 2013)

Series: Worthingtons (Book 1)

Caught in a rainstorm, Miss Calliope Worthington takes shelter in a seemingly abandoned mansion. But when she finds a string of pearls in a dusty chest, she is caught red-handed by the house's reclusive owner--Mr. Ren Porter--a fiery demon of a man who demands that Callie pay for the necklace...with her innocence.

When he first lays eyes on the beautiful trespasser, Ren mistakes her for an angel. But when he realizes Callie is a thief, he strikes a bargain she cannot refuse. She must take his hand in marriage and pay him back in full: one night of passion for each stolen pearl. But when Callie surrenders to his desires--night after wicked night--he awakens something deep inside of her. Something powerful and passionate. Like a fairy tale come true, the monster she married has become the man she loves...when she said I do.

Loved this book.  It is the story of Ren Porter, a secondary character in the Liar's Club series, and Callie Worthington.  I was glad to see Ren get his story after the trauma he'd gone through in the earlier books.  His injuries were so bad that he has taken to hiding out in his home, drinking and waiting to die.  His home is invaded one night when Callie and her family take refuge there after a carriage accident.  Thinking the place is abandoned, Callie goes exploring and finds a jewelry box that she raids, putting several necklaces on while indulging in some light fantasy.  She's startled when the owner suddenly appears and accuses her of theft, then indulges in some passionate teasing.  After being discovered by her brother, Callie agrees to marriage to prevent a duel.

Ren has hidden himself away for a long time, in constant pain from his injuries and bitter about what caused them.  He is just waiting for the death that one of his doctors predicted for him.  Callie's appearance in his life has an immediate effect on him.  The intense attraction is something he hasn't felt since before his injuries.  But he also finds himself fascinated by her.  He starts out as something of a jerk, claiming a night of passion for each pearl on one of the necklaces, planning to scare her into running away.  He doesn't expect her to actually participate willingly.  Then she ignores his orders to leave him alone in the daytime and proceeds to turn his house and life upside down.  In spite of his previous life as a spy, there are times when little old Callie sends him running.  It only takes a few days for Ren to find that instead of sending her away, he'd rather keep Callie close to him.  But he fears what would happen if she were to see all his scars, so he keeps them hidden.  The betrayals he's suffered make it hard for him to trust her, but eventually he opens himself up to her.  I loved seeing him start to come out of his shell and was worried about him after the disaster at the ball.  He has had his moments of stupidity such as when he sends her away to protect her, but eventually his love for Callie wins out.

Callie has been the glue that is holding her family together.  At thirty years old she has never had the chance to have a season, leaving her without hope of a family of her own.  When they are stranded at Ren's house, she takes a few moments to herself to explore the seemingly empty mansion.  I loved seeing her have fun with trying on all those jewels.  It was a little odd that she didn't object at all to Ren's advances, but it was obvious that the chemistry between them was strong.  Her love for her family was apparent in the way that she used marrying Ren to keep her brother from killing him.  Callie's upbringing has been very unusual and that has made her interested in many things.  She is intrigued by her reaction to Ren which makes her willing to follow his directions.  I loved the way that this rather confuses him, as he expected her to flee in terror.  I enjoyed the way that Callie embraces her new life, thrilled with the fact that she really has only herself and Ren to care for.  She also uses her experiences with her family to get Ren to do the things she wants him to do.  Some of the situations she gets into are quite funny.  I loved the scene with the sword fight, which had me laughing out loud.  I also enjoyed her attempts to bring Ren and the townspeople together, even as those attempts sometimes got her into more trouble.  The first part of the ball was wonderful and I felt so bad for her as it fell apart at the end.  Her love for Ren was so vital to her, and I felt for her as she tried to repair their relationship.

The mystery of who was trying to hurt Callie was good, but not overly intense.  It was fairly obvious who it was who was so resentful of her presence, but there was some doubt about who was behind the actual attacks.  It bothered me some that there didn't seem to be any repercussions on those who were responsible.

There was a brief appearance by some of the members of the Liar's Club, causing me to hope that there would be some kind of reconciliation.  But they were there, then gone, with no more information on what may have eventually happened.

Then we have Callie's family.  I know they are supposed to appear eccentric, but I felt like they went way beyond that.  I thought her parents were just plain negligent and their treatment of her was horrible.  There was no reason she should have been stuck taking care of everyone, including them.  Her brother Dade was rather obnoxious, and the twins were out of control with their pranks.  I didn't really have much impression of Ellie.  The youngest sister is one that I thought was especially out of control.  At twelve years old to get the idea to poison your brother in law because you don't approve of him marrying your sister is criminal, but to actually attempt to shoot him is even worse.  And to have no apparent punishment is wrong on so many levels.  It will be interesting to see how the stories for the rest of the family go. I really hope they redeem themselves.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cavanaugh Hero - Marie Ferrarella (HRS #1788 - Feb 2014)

Series: Cavanaugh Justice (Book 26)

A serial cop killer has Aurora's police force up in arms. And when the former chief gets hit, it becomes personal for Detective Declan Cavanaugh and his beautiful new partner, Charley Randolph.

Charley first took notice of the sexy, devil-may-care detective at the academy. Now she has no desire to get involved with a fellow officer. But as the bodies pile up and the threats grow more ominous, Charley must trust Declan not to reveal her true reason for working the case. Racing against the clock draws them closer--their forbidden attraction is as impossible to deny as the grave danger they're in.

Very good book.  I really liked both Declan and Charley.  The serial killer started the killing spree by shooting Charley's half brother.  She was the one who found him and was determined to be involved in finding the killer. She knew she'd be shut out if anyone knew Matt was her brother, so she kept that information to herself.  Declan was the detective assigned to the case and agreed to see if she could help.  Both had noticed the other when they were at the police academy years earlier.  Declan had been a chick magnet and had no trouble taking advantage of it.  He was interested in Charley but thought she was married so he left her alone.  Charley had also noticed him but had no intention of getting involved with anyone.  She pretended to be married so the guys would keep their distance.  Seeing Declan again brought back the same feelings but she still didn't want to get involved.  

I loved the way that Declan and Charley interacted with each other.  I think they were fairly comfortable with each other from the beginning because they had known each other before.  Once Declan found out that Charley was single he was certainly more interested in her, but he did try to restrain himself at the beginning.  I loved seeing his protectiveness come out as he tried to keep her from overworking on the case.  The more he got to know her the more he realized he was different than anyone else he had been with.  Charley was wary of Declan at first because of what she remembered of him, but soon saw the difference in him.  I loved seeing her stand up to him when he tried to shield her from things but also give in when she knew he was right.  She had never had family other than her brother so she was intrigued by the closeness of the Cavanaugh family.  I loved her surprise at the way the whole family just made her part of them, and how moved she was by their appearance at her brother's funeral.  The ending was intense with the confrontation with the killer and made both Declan and Charley realize what their true feelings were.

The suspense of the story was very good as Charley and Declan tried to figure out who the killer was.  There was definitely a lot of frustration as more officers were killed and there were no clues.  I could feel the tension after Andrew was shot and they finally got a break.  There was a very interesting twist to the identity of the shooter that I really didn't see coming.  

As always, the Cavanaugh family get togethers are fun.  I enjoy seeing previous characters and what is happening with them now.  I loved Charley's reaction to them.  One of the best things is how they are always there to support each other and the people they care about.  When Andrew was shot, once again most of the family ended up at the hospital, driving the nurses nuts as usual.  I loved her comment "You all should just get your own hospital."  

Don't Cry For Me - Sharon Sala (Mira - Sept 2012)

Series: Rebel Ridge (Book 2)

Mariah Conrad has come home. Badly wounded on active duty in Afghanistan and finally released stateside, she has no family to call on and nowhere to go -- until Quinn Walker arrives at her bedside. Quinn…her brother-in-arms, ex-lover and now maybe her future.

Quinn brings Mariah to his log cabin in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky to rest and recuperate both physically and emotionally. While she's incredibly grateful, Mariah is also confused and frustrated. She's always stood on her own two feet, but now even that can literally be torture. She's having flashbacks and blackouts, hearing helicopter noises in the night. She wants to push Quinn away -- and hold him closer than ever.

But will she get the chance? Those helicopters are more than just post-traumatic stress; they're real -- and dangerous. Bad things are happening on the mountain. Suddenly there's a battle to be fought on the home front, and no guarantee of survival.

Very good book.  Quinn has been home from the war for three years and is still fighting the aftereffects. He still has nightmares and flashbacks, but he's better than he was. He has a job as a backcountry park ranger so he doesn't have to deal with too many people.  When he hears that Mariah was wounded and has no place to go when she gets out of the hospital he brings her to his place to finish her healing.  They had had a hot and heavy romance back when they served together and she was the one who saved him when he was injured.  He has never forgotten her and is looking forward to being with her again.

Mariah is surprised to see him, but happy to have someplace to go.  As a foster child all her life she is used to depending on no one except herself and finds being dependent extremely frustrating.  Her attraction to Quinn is as strong as ever, but until she feels like she is truly recovering she won't allow herself to think of a future with him.  

I really liked both Quinn and Mariah.  Quinn knows his strengths and weaknesses and is able to work his life around them.  He still fights his PTSD, frequently waking with nightmares.  He's close with his family, and appreciates that they've been there for him throughout his recovery.  When he hears about Mariah he doesn't even think twice about bringing her back to his home.  I loved seeing how his own experience made him so much more sensitive to her needs. It was quickly obvious how much he still cared for her, and how that love was shown in everything he did for her.  

I also loved seeing Quinn doing his work as a ranger.  He loved his job and it showed.  The scenes with the rogue bear were very intense and his determination to find the poacher who created the problem was there throughout the book.  It also showed that he would see a problem through to its end no matter what.

Mariah was a terrific character.  I loved her independence and her sassiness.  She had cared for Quinn back when they were together and that caring had never disappeared.  Having him show up when she was at a pretty low point gave her a boost that she really needed.  I loved the give and take teasing between them and how it helped keep Mariah grounded.  Her flashbacks and nightmares scare her because she doesn't know if she'll ever feel normal again and she won't commit to anything with Quinn until she she does.  I loved her determination to fight her fears, including going into the forest that is an alien world to her. Her confrontation with the rogue bear was heartpounding as she dealt with it and then the following flashback.  I also enjoyed seeing her get to know Quinn's family.  Having no family of her own she is fascinated by their interactions and also by their immediate acceptance of her.  I loved seeing her improve physically and mentally thanks to her own determination and Quinn's love.  

The suspense part of the book was great.  The rogue bear at the beginning seemed to be unconnected until later in the book when it was explained.  The appearance of the local "bad boy" who had moved on to bigger things started the ball rolling on the trouble that came to Rebel Ridge.  It was interesting to see things from his point of view and follow along as things began to unravel.  The various members of the supporting cast for his "business" were well drawn and provided additional dimension to the bad guy's actions.  The buildup to the showdown was excellent.  I loved seeing how everything came together.  I really loved the strength of will that Mariah showed and the reactions of the people around her.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mistletoe Mischief - Stacey Joy Netzel (Sept 2012)

Series: Romancing Wisconsin (Book 1)

Christmas in July at the zoo is the last place single parents Eric Riley and Marissa Wilder expect to find love. Thanks to some mistletoe mischief in the form of their two young daughters and Santa, they discover mistletoe rules were not made to be broken.

Nice little Christmas in July novella.  Single parent Marissa unexpectedly ends up chaperoning her daughter's class trip to the zoo when some of the other parents don't show up.  Part way through the trip another girl's dad shows up, late.  Marissa is attracted to him, but believes he is still married to Reece's mother and is put off by his flirting.  Eric is also attracted to Marissa and would like to get to know her better.  He is confused by her cold attitude toward him.

Both Marissa and Eric have some issues that affect their initial attitudes toward each other.  Marissa judges Eric based on her experiences with her ex, who tends to blow off his commitments to his daughter.  His late arrival and some things she overhears make her believe that Eric isn't really committed to his relationship with his daughter.  Meanwhile, Eric sees Marissa dressed in business clothes and high heels for a trip to the zoo and thinks she's like his ex-wife, who always dressed to attract attention.

It doesn't take too long for them to straighten out their misconceptions.  Their caution was understandable given their previous experiences.  Once things were made clear, it was fun to see them connect.  Eric's rescue of Heather put him in a better light, and then his care for Marissa when she hurt her ankle got them even closer. Marissa was cautious but couldn't deny the interest she felt.

I loved the way "Santa Butch" was there to move things along.  Not only did he provide a way for Eric to provide care for Marissa's ankle, he also added a little mistletoe to encourage their first kiss.  I also liked the way he encouraged Eric to continue his pursuit after the zoo trip was over.

I loved seeing the two little girls together and how they contributed to the development of the romance.  I loved the scene at Eric's house that evening with Eric and the toad - showed just how much he enjoyed being a dad.

Even though the entire story took place over just one day, it was easy to see that they would want to continue to explore their newfound relationship.  I liked the epilogue with the progress report, and the bonus appearance of "Santa Butch" and company was great.

The Burden of Desire - Natalie Charles (HRS #1794 - Mar 2014)

On the eve of trial, prosecutor Sally Dawson has all the evidence she needs to convict a man of killing his wife--until the "victim" reappears. Now, alone and pregnant, to save her career she must trust the very man who broke her heart--her sworn enemy, Ben McNamara.

The case confounds Ben, a former Marine JAG, but not the attraction budding between him and Sally. Their mutual desire never died. Can Ben prove to her that he's a changed man? He may never get the chance, because the closer Sally gets to the surprising truth, the closer she gets to a desperate killer....

Overall a good book.  Sally is about to begin one of the biggest trials of her career.  She has been putting a lot of hours into her work on it.  A few days before the trial is due to start, she is assigned a "helper" by her boss.  Sally is a loner and doesn't want anyone's interference in her case, especially that of Ben, the new guy in the office.  She and Ben knew each other in law school, where they had a brief relationship before he walked away breaking her heart.  

Ben had had a good job as a corporate lawyer, then joined the Marines where he was a JAG for a few years.  He's never forgotten Sally, or what he did to her back in school.  He wants to show her that he's changed, but having to review her case isn't making it easy.

Sally's professional life has been going great until the murder victim in her big case shows up alive.  Now she has to trust Ben to review her actions to make sure she didn't miss something important.  After talking with the "victim" both Sally and Ben realize that there is something fishy going on and it's up to them to figure out what it is.  I enjoyed seeing their work as they unveil each bit of evidence and put together the facts of what happened.  There were some very interesting twists as that evidence was uncovered.  

The relationship between Sally and Ben was complicated.  Their college history had left both of them with scars.  Sally had really cared for Ben in spite of their differing backgrounds.  When she confessed her feelings Ben panicked and broke things off in a very cruel manner.  Since then Sally hasn't had any successful relationships and in order to have the family she longs for has become pregnant via a sperm donor. Ben has issues of guilt because of the death of his father.  To deal with those feelings he used to drink and indulge in other forms of wild behavior.  He also felt undeserving of love which was why he had fled from Sally all those years ago.  His guilty feelings were added to because of things that happened in another relationship and his military career.  Now that they are forced to work together, both discover that the attraction they felt before is still just as strong.  Sally still has a hard time forgiving him for his actions ten years ago and though there are a few instances of softening, still treats him like her enemy through a good share of the book.  Meanwhile, Ben is still looking a Sally as if she's a blond airhead that he can't figure out how she made it through law school, even though he reminds himself of how good she was even then.  I liked seeing her support Ben by going to his friend's wedding with him and she did finally start to see him as the man he is now, not the total jerk he used to be, but is still hurt when he reverts to jerkdom at times.  Ben admits to himself that he was a total ass back then and owes her a huge apology, but I never saw him give her one.  He did redeem himself somewhat at the end.  I would have liked to see more actual talking about their pasts between them.

My only other issue with the book is a frequent complaint I have with the Harlequin line.  A big deal was made of Ben's time in the Marine Corps, but he was always spoken of as being a marine, not a Marine.  Marine is ALWAYS capitalized, and it's hard to tell anymore whether it's the author who doesn't know any better, or (as is more frequently the case) the publisher/editor who doesn't bother to check on the proper way of doing things.  Either way, it is a big issue for me as it pulls me out of the story every time I see it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

1225 Christmas Tree Lane - Debbie Macomber (Mira - Oct 2011)

Series: Cedar Cove (Book 12)

The people of Cedar Cove know how to celebrate Christmas. Like Grace and Olivia and everyone else, Beth Morehouse expects this Christmas to be one of her best. Her small Christmas-tree farm is prospering, her daughters and her dogs are happy and well, and her new relationship with local vet Ted Reynolds is showing plenty of romantic promise.

But...someone recently left a basket filled with puppies on her doorstep, puppies she's determined to place in good homes. That's complication number one. And number two is that her daughters Bailey and Sophie have invited their dad, Beth's ex-husband, Kent, to Cedar Cove for Christmas. The girls have visions of a mom-and-dad reunion dancing in their heads.

As always in life -- and in Cedar Cove -- there are surprises, too. More than one family's going to have a puppy under the tree. More than one scheme will go awry. And more than one romance will have a happy ending!

Very nice conclusion to the Cedar Cove series.  Beth moved to Cedar Cove after her divorce three years earlier and took over the Christmas tree farm.  Things are going very well and she's looking forward to her college age daughters visiting for the holidays.  She has a nice friendship going with the local vet and the potential for it to be more.

But things are getting a little stressful.  Someone left her a basket of ten puppies that she needs to find homes for before Christmas.  And her daughters have invited their father to Cedar Cove to spend Christmas with them, with the intent of getting them back together.

The main plot of the reunion between Beth and Kent was very nicely done.  The more she thinks about seeing him again, the more Beth realizes that she regrets their divorce. She wishes she had tried harder to save their marriage.  She's just starting to get excited about seeing him again, when Kent arrives with another woman.  This brings her dreams to a screeching halt.  Something seems a little off, though, as Danielle is the complete opposite of the type of woman Kent would care for.  There also doesn't seem to be much affection displayed between them.  It was sometimes fun and sometimes painful to see the way the two girls tried to push Beth and Kent together while at the same time keeping Danielle away.  When they were together their feelings were obvious to others but not necessarily to them.  I loved seeing the way that they reconnected as they reminisced and got to the point where they could talk about what went wrong. There was an interesting twist involving Danielle at the end.

The rest of the book was made up of visits with previous characters from the books.  I enjoyed seeing where each of them is now.  It was fun seeing the ones who decided to get puppies from Beth.  I also liked catching up with the ones who had potential romances in the works and see if they panned out.  I will miss the Cedar Cove series, but will eventually read the new series that takes place there.

Red's Hot Cowboy - Carolyn Brown (Sourcebooks Casablanca - Aug 2011)

Series: Spikes & Spurs (Book 2)


But when the cops are knocking on your door, trouble's definitely found you. And this is where Wil Marshall finds himself after checking in to the Longhorn Inn. It could all be a big mistake, but Wil's not getting much sleep. Then the motel owner-who is drop dead gorgeous and feisty to boot-saves him from an even worse night behind bars. Now he owes her one, big time...


Pearl never wanted that run-down motel, but her aunt didn't leave her much choice. And then this steaming hot cowboy shows up looking for a place to rest. Next thing she knows, she wants to offer him more than just room service. But if he calls her Red one more time, he won't be the only one accused of murder...

Sparks are definitely flying and before long, the Do Not Disturb sign might be swinging from the door...

Really fun book.  When Pearl inherited her aunt's motel she quit her fancy banking job and moved to Henrietta to run it.  She's full of ideas of how she wants to make it better once she's learned a bit more about the business.  On Christmas Eve an ice storm knocks out power to half the town and her motel fills up quickly.  She rents the last room to Wil Marshall and his dog.  He's really hot, but looks like a bad boy to her and she's had her fill of those and tells herself to keep her distance.  It only reinforces her belief when the cops come looking for him the next day.  But since she knows he has an alibi, off she goes to spring him from jail.

Wil finds Pearl really hot and loves her feisty attitude. He can't resist teasing her whenever he sees her during that long night.  He's grateful for her help in clearing his name and gives her a hand at the motel to pay her back for the hours she spent helping him.  She may be living and working in the small town, but he sees her as a city girl all the way, especially when he overhears the many calls she gets from men friends in the city.  He can't seem to stay away from her though, and keeps finding reasons to be with her.

I loved the teasing between these two.  Wil loves calling her Red, which he knows really irritates her, and does it just to see her fuss at him.  He's attracted to her, knows she's attracted to him, and is quite willing to pursue that attraction and see where it goes.  I loved the way he took her on dates, from going out to dinner to a romantic picnic in the barn loft so he can show her an awesome sunset.  He's cautious about having her over to his place for dinner, having been burned by a woman who tried to take over his life.  I loved seeing him call her at night so they could talk on the phone, especially if they hadn't seen each other during the day.  His sweetness and caring when he took care of her after she fell down his stairs was awesome.  I loved that he could tease her one minute and be sweet the next.  I also enjoyed seeing that they could be serious together also.

Pearl is a lot of fun.  She is definitely independent and has no trouble standing up for herself.  The Christmas Eve influx of guests to the motel shows her ability to think on her feet very well. The descriptions of the various guests were fantastic and I loved seeing her deal with the various crises. I loved seeing her give Wil a piece of her mind over his dog, but also save him from the teenage girls who were going to cause him trouble.  In spite of being worried about falling for a "bad boy" she took the time to make sure the cops knew he couldn't have committed that murder.  I loved seeing her put him to work cleaning rooms when he offered to help.  Even though she tried to keep her distance she just couldn't resist being with him.  I loved the way they kept trying to outdo each other.  The shots competition on New Year's Eve was hysterical.

I loved the development of their romance as they actually took the time to get to know each other.  They got pretty comfortable with each other before they pulled their families into the mix.  I loved the Sunday dinners that they had with the other's family.  Wil's family, especially his mother, were a little hard to like at the beginning.  I liked the way that Pearl held her own and the way his mom came around a few days later.  Wil's visit to Pearl's family was great.  I enjoyed her teasing him before they got there by exaggerating about her female relations and the slightly panicked look he gave her before she came clean.  I really liked the whole conversation Pearl had with them while Wil was with her father.  It was easy to see where Pearl got her attitude.  Especially loved the way she made Wil blush!

The secondary characters always make the books even better.  It was fun seeing more of Austin and Rye from the first book and getting their input on the relationship between Wil and Pearl.  One of the best characters is Lucy, the abused woman that Pearl hires to help at the motel.  I loved her back story and the way it highlighted Pearl's caring personality.  It was fun to see Lucy grow from nervous to outgoing and what a big part of the story she became.  I liked the way that she and Pearl made taking care of abused women such an important part of their lives. I loved some of the things Lucy said to Pearl and how she did her best to help things along with Pearl and Wil. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

'Twas the Night After Christmas - Sabrina Jeffries (Pocket - Nov 2013)

Pierce Waverly, the Earl of Devonmont, has never forgiven his parents for inexplicably abandoning him to distant relatives as a child. Nevertheless, when he receives word that the stranger he calls "Mother" is gravely ill, the unabashed rogue makes a rare return to Montcliff, his country estate. There he finds that the woman is perfectly healthy -- and that he has fallen for a cunning ruse crafted by her lady's companion, Mrs. Camilla Stuart. The lively vicar's widow, too bright and beautiful not to arouse the scoundrel in Pierce, is determined to reconcile the Earl and Lady Devonmont. None of them can predict the secrets, both heartening and shocking, divulged between a mother and son, and between two lovers, each haunted by their pasts, that will make Christmas night at Montcliff one to remember -- and the glorious night after, one to treasure for a lifetime.

Very good book full of intense emotions on the parts of all three main characters.  We start out seeing Pierce as an eight year old child waiting for his parents to pick him up from school for the holidays.  His confusion over being sent to relatives instead, and the later hurt and then anger as he is banished from his family from then on.  He tries to see them one more time as an adult and is rejected, whereupon he does his best to show them he doesn't care by becoming something of a rake.

After his father's death he sends his mother to the Dower House, gives her a companion and an allowance and proceeds to ignore her attempts to contact him.  Until he receives a letter from the companion implying that his mother is gravely ill and he races to see her.  Furious over the deception he plans to leave the next day until Camilla convinces him to stay a little longer.

Camilla had contacted Pierce as a way to force him to see his mother.  All she could see was the hurting feelings of a woman who had been nothing but kind to her.  As a foundling with no family of her own except her young son, Camilla can't understand someone rejecting the only parent he has.  I loved seeing her stand up to him, even with the risk of losing her position.  She was determined to do everything she could to get them to mend their relationship.

Pierce was furious at her interference, but also intrigued by her.  While he would normally consider an employee to be hands-off, for her he is willing to make an exception.  He uses staying to visit his mother as a carrot to get Camilla to come to his rooms that evening, planning to seduce her.  He is surprised by the way that she stands up to him and intrigued enough to change the rules of the bargain.  That evening begins the process of them getting to know each other, with Camilla especially beginning to realize that he is not quite the heartless rake she had thought he was.  

Forced into spending time with her, Pierce discovers that some of his assumptions about his mother are wrong and begins to wonder what else he might not have known.  Unfortunately he can't get his mother to actually answer his questions, frustrating him even further.

Thanks to the actions of his parents, Pierce doesn't believe in the emotion of love.  It isn't until the appearance of Camilla's son Jasper that he is reminded of its existence.  Seeing Camilla with Jasper brings back a few memories of happier times with his mother, before he was sent away, but only makes his confusion worse.  I loved seeing Pierce get to know Jasper, and loved the way that the two of them connected.  It really showed that there was hope for Pierce.

The tension between Pierce and Camilla got stronger with each day that passed.  Pierce still has no intention of marrying and opening himself up to those kinds of emotions, but he really wants Camilla.  The more he thinks about it, the better he likes the idea of asking Camilla to move to London and become his mistress.  Camilla wants him also, but knows there's no way she's suitable to be his wife.  She's not surprised by his offer, but as a mother she has to put Jasper's well-being before her own desires.  I loved seeing her stand up to him, explaining her reasoning, even after the one night she allowed herself with him.  It was rather fun to see him not get what he wanted for a change.  I also liked the fact that Camilla sees him and his problems quite clearly and has no trouble telling him what she thinks.  I loved that she told him that he'd never actually be happy until he was able to let go of his bitterness.

Pierce did a lot of changing from the truly bitter man at the beginning of the book to the one who was willing to risk his heart at the end.  Even though he had spent so long angry at his mother, it was very revealing that he still sped off to see her when he thought she was dying.  He started out not willing to hear any of the things Camilla had to say about his mother, but her statements and his own observations started the slow journey to the truth.  He was still blind to his own feelings regarding Camilla when he returned to London, but couldn't get her off his mind.  I loved seeing the way he worked through those feelings as he went from feeling abandoned by yet another person to realizing that what he felt for Camilla was a love he'd never dared believe in before.

The whole mystery of what created the conflict to start with was very well done.  I liked seeing various bits of information come to light slowly as Pierce began to work through his childhood memories.  The truth was a combination of expected and unexpected and seeing Pierce finally get his answers was very moving.  It was terrible to see everything that Pierce and his mother went through because of his father's irrational behavior.

I enjoyed the characters of Pierce's mother and Camilla's son Jasper.  Both showed what lengths a mother would go to for their child.  Though Pierce's mother is sympathetic from the beginning, there was always that little bit of me that wondered how she could have been so cruel if she really cared for him.  Finding out the truth showed just what misery she had endured for his sake and why.  Meanwhile, Camilla was willing to give up being with the man she loved because the circumstances would not be what was best for her son.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

How to Romance a Rake - Manda Collins (St. Martins - Aug 2012)

Series: Ugly Ducklings (Book 2)

You can lead a wallflower to the ball, but you can't make her bloom--unless one daring young bachelor turns up the heat...

What's a nice girl like Miss Juliet Shelby doing at a place like Lord Deveril's ballroom? With her shy demeanor, she's a total stranger to the dance floor and a source of mockery for the ton. So imagine her surprise when Deveril gallantly comes to her defense--and offers to teach her to dance! Juliet can hardly believe the most handsome bachelor in London would notice her, until he takes her in his arms and sets her heart ablaze...

Lord Alec Deveril has never felt such a spark of attraction for an unmarried lady before. Unlike the "fashionable" ladies he's accustomed to, Juliet possesses a generous spirit, a fiery intelligence--and an explosive secret. Deep in the London underworld, a dear friend has vanished, and Juliet fears the worst. Deveril insists on helping, escorting her through the darkest alleys in town. But he too is hiding a shocking secret--and the only way he can defeat the devil in his past is to seduce the angel in his arms...

Good book with two wonderful characters.  Juliet is a quiet girl who is usually found around the edges of the ballroom.  She has a pronounced limp because of an accident years earlier and is often made fun of by some members of society.  She is stunned when Deveril comes to her defense against a couple of the nastier women and offers to teach her to dance.  Alec isn't sure why he's so intent on helping Juliet, but help her he will.

Juliet is an amazingly strong woman.  She has been through a trauma that would have broken many others and not only isn't bitter but has a terrific sense of humor and an intelligence that is truly unusual. She has been kept on the sidelines of society by her mother who is so concerned that Juliet might embarrass her because of her disability that she puts Juliet down constantly.  She has made it clear that as far as she is concerned no decent man will ever want Juliet.  She is pushing Juliet to accept the advances of a man that Juliet finds very disturbing.  When she goes too far in her demands, Alec takes Juliet to her cousin's home, but knows the only way to truly protect her is to marry her himself.

I loved Alec from the very beginning.  His rescue of Juliet from those women at the ball was wonderful and I loved the way that he stayed with her.  His offer to teach her to dance was sweet, even as he couldn't understand why he was so drawn to her.  He has spent years trying to build a good reputation in order to counteract the stigma of his father's actions.  He fears that he has inherited his father's temperament and has sworn that he won't allow himself any strong feelings for a woman.  He can't deny what he feels for Juliet and finds himself growing ever closer to her. I loved the way he couldn't resist kissing her and how surprised he was by the strength of their attraction. He is infuriated by her mother's actions and realizes that the best thing to do is marry her quickly and get her away.

I loved the trip to Scotland and the wedding at Gretna Green.  Alec's did his best to make Juliet feel comfortable with him.  He could tell she was nervous about something and tried to put her at ease.  I really liked his nervousness and the way it showed how important she already was to him.  Juliet's fears about his reaction to her injury were very realistic.  I loved the way he treated her and how he showed her that it didn't change his feelings at all.  His attitude went a long way toward improving her confidence in herself after years of abuse by her mother.

Thanks to her mother the extent of her disability became common knowledge and society didn't react well.  Juliet wasn't so concerned about herself, but she worried about the effect on Alec, especially as their marriage had been going so well.  Alec has been fighting some of his own demons and when his uncle tells Juliet some of it, Alec is sure that she will be disgusted with him.  He is stunned when she not only doesn't blame him, but shows him how wrong he had been all this time.  I loved the way that this really showed how much they had come to care for each other, even though they had yet to admit it.

The mystery that ran throughout the book was very good.  Juliet's music teacher has gone missing, leaving her child behind.  Juliet is very worried and accepts Alec's help in trying to find her.  I loved the way they worked together and how much Alec respected Juliet's intelligence.  While the bad guy was who I thought it was, there was a very interesting twist to the resolution that I really didn't see coming.  It created some real danger for both Juliet and Alec, but it coming through it they were finally able to confess their feelings.

I really enjoyed the close relationships of the three cousins and how they supported each other.  Since Cecily married in the first book, she is now in a better position to help the other two.  I loved her efforts to get Juliet to believe in herself.  I also enjoyed Maddie's advice to Alec and his complete shock over it.  The three gentlemen were also great friends and great backup for each other when needed.  Winterson gave Alec the kick in the pants he needed but also the support necessary to get Juliet to safety.  I loved Monteith's snarkiness and am really looking forward to the matchup between him and Maddie in the next book.

The only issues I had with the book were a few editing ones.  There were several problems with consistency that had me confused.  One with Juliet's maid being where she hadn't been before, but the biggest being with Juliet's injury changing location several times.  It wasn't enough to ruin the book, but I did find myself rereading a couple sections to make sure I hadn't missed something.  I also found the title of the book misleading, as Alec was definitely not a rake.

The Perfect Match - Kristin Higgins (HQN - Nov 2013)

Series: Blue Heron (Book 2)

What if the perfect match is a perfect surprise?

Honor Holland has just been unceremoniously rejected by her lifelong crush. And now -- a mere three weeks later -- Mr. Perfect is engaged to her best friend. But resilient, reliable Honor is going to pick herself up, dust herself off and get back out there…or she would if dating in Manningsport, New York, population 715, wasn't easier said than done.

Charming, handsome British professor Tom Barlow just wants to do right by his unofficial stepson, Charlie, but his visa is about to expire. Now Tom must either get a green card or leave the States -- and leave Charlie behind.

In a moment of impulsiveness, Honor agrees to help Tom with a marriage of convenience -- and make her ex jealous in the process. But juggling a fiancĂ©, hiding out from her former best friend and managing her job at the family vineyard isn't easy. And as sparks start to fly between Honor and Tom, they might discover that their pretend relationship is far too perfect to be anything but true love….

Overall a good book.  Honor has been in love with Brogan since they were teenagers, though they've been friends even longer.  She's thirty-five now and is tired of waiting for him to pick up on the fact that she loves him, even though they've occasionally done the "with benefits" thing.  So she goes to him and suggests marriage and is utterly humiliated when he not only rejects the idea but compares her to an comfortable old baseball glove.  She still wants a husband and family of her own, so she's determined to get back out there.

Tom is a British college professor who stayed in the States when he fell in love with an American single mother.  When she died before they got married he was left with no rights in regards to her son Charlie, but he stayed in order to be close to the boy.  Now his work visa is going to expire and if he doesn't find a way to get a new one he'll have to go back home, leaving Charlie behind.  

When Tom and Honor are set up by his aunt and her grandmother, the initial meeting doesn't go well.  But Honor is looking for a way to get what she wants and Tom needs all the help he can get.  They decide to have a marriage of convenience and see what comes of it.

I mostly liked Honor, but I did wish she had a bit more of a spine.  She runs the business side of the family winery and is very good at what she does.  She is definitely a workaholic which doesn't give her much of a social life.  While her work self is very confident, when it comes to her personal life she is pretty hopeless.  She doesn't think she's very good looking, but doesn't even try to maximize what she has, considering many of her attempts as "slutty".  Her work attitudes don't translate well in a social setting and she's considered intimidating.  After her proposal to Brogan she considers herself utterly hopeless.  The one thing that gave me hope for her was when Brogan broke the news of his engagement to her best friend and Honor let them have it.  Unfortunately, she then backed down and went into hiding until her blind date with Tom.  

I really liked the attraction she felt to him and how she realized that Brogan had never made her feel that way.  After they got past that first disastrous date, she was impressed by how much he cared for Charlie.  Besides her attraction to him, that care is what motivated her to help him out.  She got really frustrated with his hot and cold attitude though.  Just when things seemed to be going well between them he would suddenly pull away and be very distant with her.  When things were good she could feel herself falling for him, but then would fear getting her heart broken.  

Tom was a basically a nice guy who has had a really bad time of it.  He had stayed in America when he fell in love with Charlie's mom and had come to love Charlie like his own son.  Just before her death, Tom had sensed that things were not right with his relationship and discovered that she was cheating on him with Charlie's father.  When she died he couldn't just abandon Charlie, even though his grandparents wouldn't let Charlie stay with him.  Charlie didn't cope well with his mom's death and has turned into a really angry teenager with major attitude problems, but Tom won't give up on him.  When he discovers that his current job won't be renewing his work visa, Tom is desperate to find a way to stay.  Enter his aunt's attempt to set him up with Honor.  Tom isn't very happy with the idea and starts drinking well before Honor shows up, and as a result is a complete jerk in the way he treats her.  He does have the class to apologize later when they meet again.  At that time he realizes he's attracted to her which could make their potential marriage a bit more bearable.  

There were times that Tom was a real sweetheart to Honor.  I loved the way he played up the loving fiancĂ©, especially around Brogan and Dana.  He was very protective of her in those cases.  But Tom also had very high walls around his emotions.  He refused to allow himself to get truly attached to her.  Every time that his emotions started to get out of control he would pull back and become a real butthead.  He was afraid of getting hurt again.  Every time he loved someone he ended up getting hurt.  First his mother walked out on him and his father, his love for Melissa was rejected when she carried on with her ex, even Charlie appeared to be rejecting him.  There were times I really wondered if Tom was ever going to get his act together.  There was a short period of time when things were looking up.  He and Honor were getting to know each other better and their attraction had really taken off.  Tom was even starting to believe that he and Honor could be happy together.  Then he got kicked again and withdrew from Honor one more time, this time telling her she deserved much better than him.  I almost wanted to agree because he was being such a jerk.

Charlie was one of my favorite characters.  He was obviously hurting a lot.  I could see through Tom's memories that Charlie is a good kid that just needs to know that someone really cares.  It was obvious that his grandparents really didn't care, in fact Grandma was downright creepy.  She was also emotionally abusive.  I really liked the way that Honor treated him as a normal teen and that Charlie started to respond to her.  Her family had a pretty good effect on him.  He also finally started to respond to Tom and things were looking up until his loser father reappeared.  I felt really bad for Charlie when he was caught up in that mess.

Brogan and Dana both really ticked me off.  I never could see how Honor failed to realize that he was just using her.  He was so darned selfish that he couldn't see what he was doing to her.  Then to compare her to an old baseball glove, turn around and get engaged to her best friend a few weeks later and still expect to be friends?  Then her so called "best friend" was just an all around bitch.  Nothing ever seemed to be her fault, things were always blamed on other people.  The scene in the bar where they told Honor about their engagement was a prime example.  You could see by the description that Dana had purposely gone after Brogan and was just rubbing it in Honor's face.  I was really rooting for Honor when she went after Dana.  Then to have her pull the same thing as Brogan, trying to guilt Honor into being friends again.  I thought she really got what she deserved at the end.