I read quite a few contemporary romances in August, seven of them are books acquired by Nath during the RWA 2015 conference and gifted to me. Nath went so far as to have a few authors sign those books! From this batch, the only signed book I possess is Start Me Up by Nicole Michaels, which says "Enjoy Uncle Mike." I did. Additionally, I purchased A Lawman's Justice by Delores Fossen after having read Surrendering to the Sheriff, another gift from Nath.
Last, but not least, I DNF'd one book from that batch, a Harlequin American Romance, The Bull Rider's Son by Cathy McDavid, which unfortunately did not work for me at all due to not one, but three 'secret pregnancies,' one that caused an almost irreparable rift in a family, another one swept under the carpet by the hero as if it was so much fluff and the right thing to do, and the third by the heroine of the piece, a woman who did not learn anything from her mother's mistakes. A myriad of lies are told by supposed adults within the first few chapters and insta-lust takes place in the first couple of paragraphs. DNF.
Now to my reads. Listed from most to least enjoyable.
Return to Me (Covington Cove #1) by Kelly Moran (Berkley, 2015)
Set in the South with modern, politically involved, wealthy society taking its toll on the help. Rich kid falls in love with the help's daughter, unscrupulous mom disapproves, and it all ends in tragedy for everyone.
This is a bittersweet romance with many conflicts to resolve before the happy ending is reached. Cole? Cole is a damaged hero in love, and I admit that those types of heroes always make me swoon a little. Mia, on the other hand, has serious responsibilities in her life that may or may not interfere with her love life -- she has sole custody of a younger sister with down syndrome. Mia loves wholeheartedly, but understandably those responsibilities hold priority. In the present, some of the same obstacles from the past still hold sway, and as adults Cole and Mia must make tough decisions. I like that when the time comes, Cole is an adult about making those decisions and although Mia takes the tough road, she makes the right decision for her. I enjoyed the main characters and romance, as well as the secondary characters in Return to Me. I plan to read Kelly Moran's second installment in her Covington Cove series, All of Me. Recommended.
A Lawman's Justice (Sweetwater Ranch #8) by Delores Fossen (Harlequin, Intrigue, 2015)
Surrendering to the Sheriff, and was able to catch up with the overall story arc without a problem.
In this installment FBI Special Agent Seth Calder, Jewell's beloved stepson and Whitt Braddock's youngest daughter, relentless journalist Shelby Braddock, the woman responsible for uncovering the evidence that placed Jewell behind bars, finally collide in an investigation that threatens both their lives. The investigation throws them together and ignites passion where before there had only been hostility and a mild attraction. Eventually their combined investigation leads to the truth behind Whitt Braddock's death and answers to the question of Jewell's guilt. High family drama ensues!!
Like the last installment, A Lawman's Justice is filled with action, a high body count, shootouts, and more than enough family drama. Although, truthfully, the only 'laugh-out-loud' moment related to the drama came when I read the word "amnesia," (Oh noes!!) yes, this lived up to my expectations of the soap-opera style writing style I expected. It had the over-the-top ending and intricate family relationships I was looking for, as well as hidden agendas and dramatic revelations. If you are a fan of this sort of "intrigue," this series is for you. I certainly enjoyed the last two installments. (Tongue-in-cheek: I was disappointed that the evil twin-sister device was not used). Recommended.
Start Me Up (Hearts and Crafts #1) by Nicole Michaels (St. Martin's Press, 2015)
When I read a romance, the female protagonist usually makes or breaks the romance for me. In this case, Anne has left over baggage from the breakup of her marriage. It left her feeling insecure about her looks and paranoid about the time she devoted to her blog. As a result, she continually obsesses about her lack of beauty, avoid and later lies about her blog to Mike. Additionally, Mike is younger than Anne by about three years, and this fact also makes her feel insecure about younger women, particularly since he is such a good looking man. Anne is a woman with curves, and the personal insecurity about her looks is of course baseless, since Mike, other men, and her friends find her gorgeous -- they tell her and show her throughout the story. This sort of personal insecurity may be understandable as not everyone is self-confident about their looks or sees themselves as others see them. Anne, however, uses her insecurity as a shield to avoid making a commitment to Mike almost to the very end. This drove me nuts!
Mike, on the other hand, falls for Anne like a teenager in love for the first time, and this side of the romance is worth reading. However, I found this to be an unbalanced romance. Anne just takes too long to trust Mike with her real self and I don't even know if in the future she won't allow her personal insecurities to interfere with the relationship. Mike will have to do a lot of hard work to keep this going. Overall though, there are other aspects of the novel that makes Start Me Up a cute contemporary romance. It is a nice, light, fluffy read, and I loved "Uncle Mike." Recommended with caveats.
A Rancher of Her Own by Barbara White Daille (Harlequin, American Romance, 2015)
Pete Brannigan is ordered by his boss to play tour guide to his granddaughter, photographer and 'city slicker,' Jane Garland while she photographs the family home turned Inn for a new website. He lusts after her but resents it because his ex-wife abandoned him and his two children for a life in the city. Eventually he falls in love with her but won't trust her with his heart or his children. Jane lusts after Pete as well, gets involved with his children despite his repeated warnings not to do so, but still wants her life in the city anyway. Pete's little girl ends up getting hurt by everyone: her selfish mother, fearful father, and Jane who abandons her just like her mother did when she returns to her life in the city. Grandpa who began it all by playing matchmaker worries these two people will never get together. They do despite the obstacles. This romance has its moments. I enjoyed the ranch house atmosphere and intimate family portrayal more so than the actual 'romance.' Not for me.
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
The triangle between Olivia, Gabriel and Ricky gathers strength in this installment. Olivia takes her physical pleasure from Ricky and her emotional fulfillment from Gabriel. However, up this point the men have been best of friends and have not interfered with each other's roles in Olivia's life. That changes somewhat in this installment and may change further in the future, but for some reason I believe that no matter what happens these three will remain friends.
Personally, Gabriel's tortured and emotionally stunted character is my very favorite, and that is probably because to me he is the one in need of emotional growth. More of his personality and emotions are revealed in this installment which I liked. Olivia, who is great at figuring out clues to mysteries and omens, is clueless when it comes to men and Gabriel in particular. She seems to be a fan of instant self-gratification and her rush to get physically involved with Ricky is a disaster waiting to happen. More so because she has allowed that relationship to deepen when in fact her feelings for Ricky are not what they should be. There is nothing to dislike about Ricky and I don't believe there will be, on the contrary, he is a great guy and deserves better from Olivia, but I can't help but wish he wasn't there. That is impossible, of course, since he has become key to the overall story arc not just part of Olivia's personal life.
Don't get me wrong, this installment is not all about relationships, it has plenty of action as Armstrong focuses on a particular mystery and the overall story arc evolves. However, as I mentioned in my review of Visions, the characters and relationships do drive the story. The people of Cainsville, Huntsmen, Olivia's parents the Larsens and other beings make key contributions to this interesting, fast read. I read the book in one sitting. The hints of Welsh folklore that began in previous books are further developed and we learn more of what awaits Gabriel, Olivia, and Ricky. At the end, however, we again go back to Olivia's pesky emotional/physical relationship with her men. The overall story arc depends on three people with problems: Olivia with her lack of judgment, need for love and ingrained fear of betrayal, Gabriel with his stunted emotions, neurotic fear of abandonment, and denial, and charming/ruthless Ricky, a young man with something to prove, just now coming out of the dark. The question here is what is destined to be vs. free will. I wonder.
Despite my personal niggles about Olivia's character, this is a fast paced UF installment that moves the overall story arc forward in a big way. Armstrong maintains that edgy atmosphere I loved in the first two books, and the interaction between characters, main and secondary, continue to keep that sense of mystery alive. For those of you who want to know, in her website Armstrong posted that books 4 and 5 have been sold, and she will wrap up the series by then. Good news! Recommended.
Omens, Book #1
Visions, Book #2
Deceptions, Book #3
Sunday, August 9, 2015
There is bad blood between the Braddocks and O'Neals, a sort of feud that began when Whitt Braddock was murdered twenty-three years ago and his mistress, Jewell became the suspect. Now there is proof that may convict Jewell of the murder. In Surrendering to the Sheriff, Whitt's son, County Sheriff Aiden Braddock, and Jewell's half-sister, Kendall O'Neal, become the target of unknown hired goons/kidnappers attempting to force Aiden to destroy evidence against Jewell.
This romance suspense is highly dramatic with a soap opera style that had me hooked from the beginning. Let me give you an example from the first chapter:
Kendall opened her mouth. Closed it. Then swallowed hard. "I thought Laine might have said something."In that scene, I visualized an imaginary camera close up of a surprised Aiden trying to play it cool and imagined dramatic music soaring. In case you want to know, Kendall is pregnant with Aiden's child after a night of drunken sex when the two finally give in to a twenty-three year old attraction.
Aiden shook his head. "My Sister? What does she have to do with this?"
"Laine saw me coming out of the doctor's office. I swear Aiden, I was going to leave town next week. I wasn't going to put any of this on you. I know how you and your family feel about me."
There was a gun trained on him, but Aiden went some steps closer so he could look Kendall straight in the eye. "What the heck are you talking about?"
She made a sound. Sort of a helpless moan that came from deep within her chest. "They took me because I'm pregnant. Because they knew they could use that for leverage."
Kendall's breath shuddered. "Aiden, the baby I'm carrying is yours."
Aiden and Kendall go through different scenarios with would-be kidnappers, investigating, finding and dismissing suspects, with both Aiden and Kendall saving each other repeatedly before everything is resolved. The close contact between the couple brings them together and a resolution to their romance is found by the end.
There are quite a few shoot out scenes and Fossen keeps the "intrigue" going by throwing in false but viable trails until the very end. I was definitely entertained by all the action as well as the dramatic soap-opera secrets that kept popping out of the woodwork. The action and family drama overshadows the lukewarm romance. For some reason, I expected less control and more unbridled passion from this couple after all those years of waiting. Truth be told, Aiden and Kendall have much to deal with in their personal lives, including some psycho family members. He is a 'baby daddy' looking forward to becoming a father and wants to be part of his child's life. He lusts after Kendall, but there is a personal element of surprise, a rather passionless one at that, when it comes to love and commitment to a serious relationship. Kendall, on the other hand, has been in love with Aiden since they were teenagers and has fantasized about their being together for 23 years. To be fair, the family feud and bad blood is a mood killer.
This Harlequin Intrigue felt meaty and a much longer book than its 216 pages. I enjoyed the high-drama and soap opera factors, the suspense became much more intriguing to me than the romance. However, I did like the main characters: Aiden as an honest man who takes his responsibilities seriously, and particularly Kendall as a heroine who needs to be protected but doesn't sit around waiting to be saved, instead becoming proactive in dangerous situations. Grade B-
NOTE: This book was a gift from Nath's RWA 2015 Book Haul. Thank you Nath!