Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The SEAL's Christmas Twins - Laura Marie Altom (HAR #1480 - Dec 2013)

Series: Operation: Family (Book 5)

His Toughest Mission Yet

Navy SEAL Mason Brown left Conifer, Alaska, and his broken marriage behind long ago. Until one call changed everything. His ex-wife has died in a tragic accident, and given custody of her twin baby girls to Mason and her sister Hattie.

Hattie Beaumont always dreamed of having a family -- and Mason -- but never like this. Now those old longings seem like betrayal, especially since playing house with Mason comes naturally. She can tell he feels it, too, so why is he determined to leave?

Mason knows Hattie and the girls are the greatest Christmas gift he'll ever get. But even though he's risked his life countless times, risking his heart again feels so much more dangerous.

Very good book.  Mason hasn't been back to Alaska since the end of his marriage, until the death of his ex-wife sends him back to take joint custody of her twin girls.  The other half of the agreement is his ex's sister Hattie who had once been a good friend to him.  Mason's feelings of betrayal still run deep and he has no interest in keeping to the custody agreement.  But until he can relinquish his rights he's stuck caring for them.  Spending time with Hattie creates feelings in him even stronger than those he had felt for his ex-wife, but he's not sure he can open himself up to that kind of risk again.

I really liked both Hattie and Mason.  Hattie always felt like second best around her sister, who was thin and beautiful and popular.  Except around Mason who was always nice to her.  Hattie developed a mad crush on him that lasted even after their marriage and divorce.  Now she's suffering from terrible guilt because she has her sister's children and her sister's husband.  Having Mason around helping her with the babies makes her feel like she's part of a real family.  It's making that old crush grow into real love, but it's tearing her apart.  Hattie also has terrible self esteem because she sees herself as fat and doesn't believe anyone would ever see her as beautiful.  I loved seeing the way that she went from terrified to fantastic with the girls.  Mason's presence gave her confidence the boost it needed for her to feel that she can take care of them.  They had terrific teamwork and Hattie could see how wonderful it could be if they were able to be together.  I also thought she had wonderful inner strength to be able to do everything she did and still cope with the nasty attitudes of her parents.  I often wondered how she could keep her temper when her mom said all those terrible things. It was hard to see her allow her guilt to keep her from what she really wanted. I really liked the way that Hattie took charge of her life at the end.

Mason still feels the betrayal of his ex-wife and best friend.  He is stunned to find out he has joint custody of their girls with Hattie.   He doesn't want it and can't wait to turn it all over to Hattie.  Because there will be a delay, he ends up sharing the house and child care duties with Hattie.  He is surprised by what a beautiful woman she has become and shocked by the attraction he feels for her.  He knows nothing can come of it because he can't wait to leave and there's no way Hattie will leave.  I really liked the way that he saw her beauty, inside and out, and tried to get her to see what he saw.  I also loved seeing him learn to care for the babies.  He had always been one of the ones  who didn't understand his teammates who got married and had kids and now he's starting to fall also.  There were some great scenes with him learning what to do and treating it like a military mission.  He had some great moments where he was trying to come to grips with his growing feelings for his "friend" and trying to reconcile them with what he still felt about his ex.  When he finally admitted his feelings he was stunned by her response.  I didn't blame him for running to escape his pain again.  I really liked his reaction at the end.

Matched by Moonlight - Gina Wilkins (HSE #2306 - Jan 2014)

Series: Bride Mountain (Book 1)

A workaholic wedding planner meets a travel writer, and soon love is in the air at Bride Mountain, Virginia's most exciting venue for destination weddings

Kinley Carmichael is on her way to transforming her family's historic B and B into Virginia's most exciting vacation venue. Romance is the last thing on the once-burned wedding planner's mind...until footloose travel writer Dan Phelan shows up, throwing her schedule--and Kinley's guarded heart--into chaos. 

Dan is just passing through and has no intention of making Bride Mountain Inn his honeymoon destination. So why is Kinley suddenly making him long to take that fateful walk down the aisle? It will take a local legend and a passionate kiss under a bridal moon for two total opposites to realize they could be meant for each other....

Good story of two people who seem like total opposites as they discover that they have more in common than they thought and that a little bit of compromise can make anything possible.  Kinley and her brother and sister have turned their B and B into a sought after wedding destination.  It has drawn the attention of travel writer Dan Phelan, who arrives to do a story on it.   Kinley is very focused on the business and the upcoming wedding taking place.  Dan's early arrival has thrown off her schedule, and the attraction she feels to him isn't helping her peace of mind.  Having been hurt in a marriage that didn't work out she now keeps tight control over her emotions, putting all her effort into the business.  She can't seem to stay away from Dan even though she knows he's not the type to stay around. She sees him as someone who cannot settle down.  I loved seeing the way that being with him showed her feelings that she had given up on long ago.  She also began to wonder if her need for control was turning her into an unlikable person.  I loved the way that Dan reassured her on that point.  I also liked the way that she was able to see Dan's issues that were driving him.

Dan was an only child of parents who had problems letting him live his own life.  They didn't understand his desire to write and showed their disapproval that he didn't follow them into medicine or law. So he has spent the last several years going from place to place writing his travel articles.  When he arrives at Bride Mountain to write his article about the B and B, he is impressed by what he sees.  He is rather amused by Kinley's attempts to keep all their interactions business related.  He would like to pursue the attraction between them as long as she understands that it would be a no strings thing.  I really enjoyed seeing the fun he had getting her all flustered.  I also liked the way that he stepped in to help her with the bride's mother during the wedding festivities.  He was very good at seeing Kinley for who she is and why she is the way she is.  His growing feelings for him scared him off for awhile as he doubted his ability to be what she needed.  I loved what he said at the end and how they decided to make things work.

I also enjoyed the setting of the book.  Southwestern Virginia is a beautiful place and I loved the descriptions.  I also loved the whole wedding scenario.  There were some pretty funny moments with Kinley and the others dealing with the obnoxious mother of the bride.  Many of the situations showed both Kinley and Dan doing what they do best and gave great insight into who they are.  I liked the hints of the subject of the next book in the series.

Monday, December 30, 2013

'Twas the Week Before Christmas - Olivia Miles (HSE #2304 - Dec 2013)

Series: Maple Woods (Book 1)

Dear Holly,

As I look around the inn, I see garland and mistletoe, colored lights and ornaments--everything I have always professed to despise. You were right to wonder why I would choose to visit The White Barn Inn. You were right about a lot of things.

Since I met you, though, everything has changed. I've changed. And that's why I can't go on any longer without telling you the whole story. I don't know if you will ever be able to forgive me. But they say Christmas is a time for miracles. And you do believe in them, don't you? The question is, can you still believe in me?


Very good book, slightly reminding me of A Christmas Carol.  We have Holly, the innkeeper, who loves Christmas.  She has decorated the inn, participates in all the Christmas activities, and just generally seems a pretty happy person.  Then you have grumpy Max.  He is a self-made successful real estate developer.  He doesn't like Christmas at all.  He's in town to try to buy some land for a shopping mall, land her inn just happens to occupy.  

I liked Holly.  She has made a life for herself at the inn.  She left Boston after being disappointed in love, losing her parents and then her grandmother.  The inn and its guests have become her life.  I loved the way that she throws herself into all the Christmas preparations and activities.  When Max shows up she is very attracted to him.  He has a great smile and seems very interested in her.  She doesn't understand his dislike of Christmas and gets him involved in the activities.   Her disappointment when a snowstorm keeps guests away is obvious and she's grateful that Max is staying around.  Everything is going great between them until she finds out why he's in town.  

Max had had a miserable childhood with a drunk, abusive father and a mother who abandoned them when he was eleven, right after Christmas.  He has disliked the holiday ever since.  He has worked hard to build a successful real estate development company.  His latest project is a shopping mall in Maple Woods.  He has come to town to buy the land and get the project approved by the city council.  He doesn't expect the instant attraction to Holly.  He can't seem to stay away from her and the more he gets to know her the guiltier he feels about his plans.  I felt really bad for Max.  He was so torn about what he should do.  On the one hand, his business  really needs the mall property and it's important to him to continue with his business successes.  On the other hand, his growing feelings for Holly make him want to leave it all behind for her.  He went through so much turmoil before he finally found his way back to her.

The story showed Max his past as he told Holly about it, with the unhappy things that happened to him that made him the man he is today.  We also saw Max in the present, as he spends time with Holly and her friends, seeing the happiness she has as she takes care of her guests.  Max also envisions the future as it might be after the mall is built and the effects it would have on the town.  

I really enjoyed the descriptions of the town and the inn.  The various secondary characters felt real to me and brought both the town and the inn to life.  I'm looking forward to the next book and a return to Maple Woods.

An Early Christmas Gift - Susan Crosby (HSE #2303 - Dec 2013)

Series: Red Valley Ranchers (Book 3)

The Capulets and the Montagues had nothing on the Ryders and the Morgans! But despite the fact that each one was from one of the rival ranching families, Jenny Ryder and Win Morgan had a passionate summer affair four years ago -- one that resulted in pregnancy. They got married and promptly lost the baby. Heartbroken, Jenny let herself be talked into divorcing Win…without ever having revealed the marriage to her family -- or his.

Now Jenny's back, and one impulsive night means that Jenny and Win are about to be parents again! This time, they have to fess up. Their future happiness and child depend on it. But Win is keeping his own secret -- that "divorce" he and Jenny supposedly got might not be worth the paper it (wasn't!) printed on….

Good book about second chances and trust.  I really liked both Jenny and Win.  Their brief summer affair had affected them both.  Because of her pregnancy they had married in secret, but  split right after she lost the baby.  Jenny has finished college and has plans for her future.  When she sees Win for the first time in four years, their reunion turns physical in a flash.  With their families still not getting along, having any kind of relationship will be difficult, but the pull is still there.  Then history repeats itself and Jenny is pregnant again.  Finding out that Win never filed the divorce papers is a shock to her, but even more so to their families.  Now that Jen and Win are planning to make a go of their marriage they have to take the time to get to know each other and see if this marriage has a chance.

Jenny has come home with big plans to have a lavender farm.  She's very independent and doesn't want to rely on her family for financing so tries to get a bank loan.  When she's turned down she is upset and manages to drive off the road on her way home to her parents' house.  Win finds her and they speak for the first time in four years.  Their attraction is still there and they have a hot and heavy reunion before calling for help to get her car out of the ditch.  Because of their family feud Jenny sends Win off before her father and brothers arrive.  She realizes that she has never gotten over her love for Win.  With her plans in limbo, she works with her sister-in-law (The Cowboy's Return) on her organic farm.  Over the next several weeks she and Win find ways to be together a bit.  When she discovers she's pregnant she's also stunned to find out that Win had never filed the divorce papers and they are still married.  She worries that Win is only staying married to her because of the baby, while she is very much in love with him.  I liked the fact that Jen really wanted their marriage to work.  She loved Win and was trying to do everything she could to show him how much. There are some great scenes with Jenny trying to make her point. She couldn't bring herself to tell him that because she feared that he would reject her, the way she felt rejected four years earlier.  I also liked the way that she held on to her dreams of the lavender farm, but also realized that the dreams needed to be adapted to her new reality.  I also loved the way that she stood up to Win's father about his attitude.  She did a bit of growing up by the end of the book as she and Win were finally able to be completely open with each other.

Win has been in love with Jenny from the beginning though he didn't realize that it was love he was feeling.  He just knew that he wanted and needed her.  He couldn't bring himself to divorce her four years earlier and now has to find a way to tell her.  Their reunion makes him realize that there are still feelings between them and he starts finding ways to spend time with her.  When Jenny becomes pregnant he tells her about the non-divorce and insists that they tell both families about their marriage.  I loved the way he insisted on full disclosure to her family.  His nervousness was understandable considering their family histories, but he stood up anyway.  I loved his confusion around all the Ryders, since he had never seen a family interact the way they did, with obvious love for each other. He was also surprised at their offers of help on his ranch considering the feud. His own relationship with his father was rocky at best.  I liked seeing Win standing up to his father and trying to make him understand.  I loved the way he got his chance to show his dad what could be done. I loved the way that Win tried so hard to take care of Jenny.  He was so afraid of causing her harm that he tried to resist her efforts to get him into bed with her. Win was also trying to show Jenny how much he cared by trying to find a way to make her lavender farm dream come true.  I loved seeing the way that they worked things out at the end.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Nanny's Secret - Elizabeth Lane (HD #2277 - Jan 2014)

Series: Billionaires and Babies (Book 41)

Haughty and handsome, resort owner Wyatt Richardson has never met a problem he couldn't buy his way out of. Facing custody of his teenage daughter and her newborn son, he hires a nanny to handle them both. His attraction to Leigh Foster is an unexpected perk. He's confident the feeling is mutual.

But Leigh knows she's on shaky ground. Falling for her new boss could prove devastating -- especially if Wyatt finds out her true connection to baby Mikey. But when the billionaire's arms beckon, will she be powerless to refuse?

Very good book.  Wyatt has a lot to learn about parenting and Leigh turns out to be just the one to help him.

Wyatt is desperate to find a nanny for his new grandson.  His pregnant teenage daughter had been dumped with him by her mother and Wyatt is at a total loss what to do.  When he hires Leigh he suspects she's not the expert she says she is, but he's willing to take the chance.  His attraction to her is just the icing on the cake.  At first I didn't find him very likable.  He seemed more interested in getting Chloe to give up the baby and go back to being a teenager than in doing the right thing for the baby.  It quickly became obvious that his real problem was simple fear.  He had not had a good childhood and had built his business from the ground up.  He had spent all his time building his business, thinking that being able to provide for his family was enough.  He had never learned how to show love in any way other than buying things.  Hiring Leigh was his way of throwing money at that problem.  He was not particularly happy to find that she was intent on making sure that Mikey was a full part of the family, not just an inconvenience.  I loved seeing the way that Leigh's instruction and efforts had him feeling more for the baby than he had ever felt before.  He also wanted to give in to his attraction to Leigh, but wanted to do it without involving emotions.  But he found that the more time he spent with Leigh the more he wanted to keep her with him.  His growing feelings for her also showed him how better to relate to his daughter.  I loved seeing him open up to all the feelings he had by the end of the book.

Leigh wanted the nanny job for one reason.  The baby's father is her younger brother and she wants to make sure that the baby gets a good start in life.  She knows that she can't tell Wyatt who she really is.  He doesn't know the identity of Mikey's father and she fears that if he did he would ruin Kevin's life.  Her intent is to be there for Mikey no matter what else happens.  She doesn't expect to be attracted to Wyatt and tries to resist it.  I loved watching her stand up to him and not let him ignore his grandson.  There were some pretty fun scenes as she taught him everything from feeding to diapering.  She also found that spending so much time with him started changing her feelings from attraction to love.  She was also sure that once he found out about her deception any feelings he might have for her would die in the face of his anger.  She came to love Mikey and Chloe so much that she wanted to stay with them all.  I loved the ending and how it was Chloe that came up with the perfect solution.

The High Price of Secrets - Yvonne Lindsay (HD #2272 - Dec 2013)

Series: The Master Vintners (Book 4)

Protecting his foster parents means everything to Finn Gallagher. So when stunning Tamsyn Masters appears on his doorstep, looking for her mother, he does what he has to do -- he lies to her. It's not as if Tamsyn hasn't done worse. And if a harmless seduction will keep her where he wants her, why not?

Now Finn has another secret…he's falling for Tamsyn. She's not what he thought, and time is running out. The choice is clear -- Tamsyn or the truth. Because he can't have both.

Very good book.  Both Tamsyn and Finn have to deal with both finding love that will define their futures and also be able to let go of their pasts.  There was so much emotion between the two of them that I went through several tissues while reading it.

Tamsyn has had to deal with too many lies.  Between her entire family lying to her about her mother and then her fiance cheating on her, she needs to get away.  Tamsyn is now determined to find her mother.  Her search has led her to the vineyard of Finn Gallagher.  He claims that he doesn't know her mother, but offers to show her around the area while she searches.  Their initial meeting had not gone well, but he seems to be more cooperative now.   The attraction she feels for him is doing pretty good things for her confidence also.  While she occasionally gets the feeling he's hiding something, she's really starting to fall for him.  I really liked Tamsyn.  While she seemed pretty impulsive, running off to New Zealand like she did, overall she is a smart and independent woman.  I liked the way that she wasn't going to give up her search even though she hit a roadblock with Finn.  Her determination led her to take a job working with local seniors and finding a place to live.  When she discovers his deception she is devastated and even more so when she finds out the truth about her mother.  I thought she was terrific all through the final stages of the book and really showed what a great person she was.  

Finn's actions at the beginning showed how intent he was on protecting his foster parents.  He was so sure that he was doing the right thing by deceiving Tamsyn.  Everything he thought he knew about her made him think that she was selfish and spoiled.  He was attracted to her, though, and thought that having a fling with her would satisfy him and keep her out of trouble too.  But the more he got to know her, the more he realized that she was not the brat he had believed her to be.  I felt a little bit bad for Finn because he had messed up so badly.  I liked his protectiveness toward Ellen, but he probably should have made greater efforts to convince his foster father of the truth.  I enjoyed the way that he got to know Tamsyn and realized that he was falling for her.  He really understood her and it was killing him that he couldn't tell her the truth.  I really enjoyed seeing the things they did together and how much alike they really were.  I loved seeing the decision they made about Tamsyn's legacy from her mother.

Here and Then - Linda Lael Miller (SSE #762 - Aug 1992)

Series: Beyond the Threshold (Book 2)

Rue Claridge's cousin, Elisabeth, had disappeared--evidently returning to an earlier era. Someone had to investigate, so intrepid globetrotter Rue donned a mysterious necklace that could catapult her over the threshold . . . into a different century.

And wild and woolly the Old West was--complete with a lean, lanky lawman hankering for a forward-thinking female. Spitfire Rue was the filly for Farley Haynes, and Rue, too, felt fated to wed the uncompromisingly masculine marshal. But would a bandit's bullet bury him in 1892, leaving Rue in widow's weeds . . . a century beyond the threshold?

Very good book.  Rue arrived in Pine River, current day, to investigate the disappearance of her cousin Elisabeth (There and Now).  Letters that he cousin left for her indicated that she had disappeared into an earlier era by her own choice.  Rue wouldn't believe it until she heard it from her cousin herself.  So she put on the mysterious necklace and did indeed find herself in Pine River 1892.  Unfortunately, her cousin was away on her honeymoon and not there to vouch for her, so she ends up the guest of the local marshal.  Rue is a modern woman and I loved seeing her reactions to the people around her and what they expect.  I loved the poker game scene and her discussion with Farley later on.  Rue is attracted to Farley and seems to find a fair amount in common with him.  There is one point where the necklace is about to send Rue back to the future and she grabs Farley, which drags him to the future with her.  I really loved the way that she had so much fun showing him her world.  The more time they were together the more deeply she fell in love with him.  She worried that he would get sent back to the past and they would be separated forever.  The ending was great with the way that she and Elisabeth worked together to save Farley.

Farley is the marshal in charge of Pine River.  When he finds a strange woman in his friend Jonathan's house who claims to be Elisabeth's cousin he doesn't know what to think.  But without any proof, he can't just let her stay there.  Her strange clothing and speech worry him and he tries to keep an eye on her.  As strange as she is, he is also very attracted to her.  I loved seeing the way he tried to watch out for her.  I also really enjoyed seeing how much the things she said amused him, even though he had no idea what she was talking about.  He was also a product of his time and when he and Rue gave in to their attraction he was determined that they would get married.  When his plans were interrupted by a trip into the future he had a lot he had to absorb.  I loved the way that he adapted so quickly.  Because of the way he was educated, by reading everything he could get his hands on, he used the same methods in the future and read about everything from engines to plumbing.  When Rue took him to the ranch she inherited he had to decide if he could handle getting the property by marriage rather than earning it himself.  He was also feeling guilty about disappearing from his job in the past and wanted to go back long enough to end it properly.  The ending was very intense with wondering if Farley would survive or not.

I really enjoyed the two books and seeing how the two couples dealt with the whole time travel thing.  There was some great humor as both women faced life in 1892.  I really enjoyed seeing Rue put her modern woman values to work in that time period.  There were some great scenes, such as the poker game and also her facing down the ladies of the town.  I thought Farley was pretty great at accepting the truth and then adapting to the future the way he did.

Rancher at Risk - Barbara White Daille (HAR #1484 - Jan 2014)

Series: Flagman's Folly

A Fresh Start
After the loss of his family in a tragic accident, Ryan Malloy has been given one last chance to change his life. His boss sends him to Flagman's Folly, New Mexico, to run his ranch, but unfortunately, Ryan's troubled attitude lands him in hot water with the locals, especially the ranch's manager, Lianne Ward. 

Deaf since birth, Lianne has never let her disability define who she is. But, she's yet to meet a man who treats her as an equal. Ryan seems different...that is, when they're not butting heads over the ranch's new school for disadvantaged boys. 

Forced to work together, Lianne and Ryan discover an unexpected attraction beneath their quarreling. But will Ryan's painful past drive them apart...permanently?

Very good book.  Ryan has been living on the edge for the past year, ever since the deaths of his wife and son in an accident.  He has been getting angrier and angrier over their loss and the fact that there were no answers as to how it had happened.  It created a need in him to control everything and this bled over into his work.  His boss has sent him to Flagman's Folly to run the ranch there,  getting him away from his memories and giving him a chance for a fresh start.  But on the way into town he has a confrontation with a woman about a child that ran into the road. This gets him off on the wrong foot with several locals including Lianne, the woman in question.  It turns out that she's the manager in charge of getting the school for disadvantaged boys set up.  What he doesn't know until after they've worked together for awhile is that Lianne is deaf.  While he's sure that she knows her job, he looks on his new position as a test by his boss to see if Ryan can handle the job.  Therefore, Ryan plans to oversee every little thing to make sure that nothing goes wrong on his watch.  At first, all the interactions between him and Lianne end in quarrels.  But it's not long before that heat has taken a different direction.  There's so much about Lianne that appeals to him and being around her is easing his pain, but he's not sure he can open himself up to more loss.  Plus, his need to control everything runs up against Lianne's need for independence.  I felt so bad for Ryan's pain and the trouble he was having dealing with it.  He was so worried about making sure that everything went perfectly that he couldn't see what his attitude was doing to Lianne.  I loved seeing the way that he finally saw what he was doing and moved to fix it.  I really liked his explanation of his feelings and his attitude.

Lianne had recently ended a long relationship with a man she thought was the one.  Until she discovered that he had no confidence in her abilities to care for herself or exist without his help.  This caused her to doubt her own judgment when it came to relationships, and even worked on her self confidence in her work.  She has never allowed her deafness to slow her down, finding ways to adapt her activities if she needed to.  She is very happy to have the opportunity to supervise the establishment of the new school.  Everything is going great until Ryan shows up.  She can see the doubts that he has and it does nothing for her confidence.  She hates having to report every little thing to him.  The attraction between them isn't doing her any good either.  But the more time they have to spend together, the easier it gets.  Lianne starts feeling that maybe he's finally coming to accept that she doesn't need to be protected all the time and that there might be hope for a future together.   She's heartbroken when she finds him doing something that she sees as just another indication of a man who doesn't think she can handle her job.  I loved Lianne's independence and determination to live her life to the fullest.  She tries not to let anything stop her from doing what she wants to do.  There were times that she may have been too independent, when it would have hurt to let Ryan help her, but I could see that she was still trying to recover from being hurt before.  I liked the way that she was able to explain her feelings to Ryan.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Takedown Twenty - Janet Evanovich (Bantam - June 2013)

Series: Stephanie Plum (Book 20)

Stephanie Plum has her sights set on catching a notorious mob boss. If she doesn't take him down, he may take her out.

New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum knows better than to mess with family. But when powerful mobster Salvatore "Uncle Sunny" Sunucchi goes on the lam in Trenton, it's up to Stephanie to find him. Uncle Sunny is charged with murder for running over a guy (twice), and nobody wants to turn him in--not his poker buddies, not his bimbo girlfriend, not his two right-hand men, Shorty and Moe. Even Trenton's hottest cop, Joe Morelli, has skin in the game, because--just Stephanie's luck--the godfather is his "actual" godfather. And while Morelli understands that the law is the law, his old-world grandmother, Bella, is doing everything she can to throw Stephanie off the trail.

It's not just Uncle Sunny giving Stephanie the run-around. Security specialist Ranger needs her help to solve the bizarre death of a top client's mother, a woman who happened to play bingo with Stephanie's Grandma Mazur. Before Stephanie knows it, she's working side by side with Ranger and Grandma at the senior center, trying to catch a killer on the loose--and the bingo balls are not rolling in their favor.

With bullet holes in her car, henchmen on her tail, and a giraffe named Kevin running wild in the streets of Trenton, Stephanie will have to up her game for the ultimate takedown. 

Stephanie's antics are still fun, but not as hysterically funny as they were in the earlier books.  In this one, the main story is the search for "Sunny" Sunucchi who has skipped out on his bond.  Vinnie is out a whole bunch of money if Sunny isn't found and it's Stephanie's job to do it.  The problem is that Sunny is a very popular guy and no one will rat him out.  She can't even get any help from Joe because Sunny is a relative, even if he is a bad guy.  As usual, she manages to find him a few times but can't take him down.  She even gets tossed off a bridge while wearing a cinder block because of him.  Thank goodness Ranger was there to save her.

Ranger has also asked her to help him investigate some murders.  All of the dead women have played bingo with Grandma Mazur, but Stephanie is having problems trying to find any other connections.  Meanwhile she and Grandma are hitting up the bingo games and funeral viewings looking for clues.

Stephanie is really beginning to think that she needs to look at a new career.  She gets to know a butcher who might be a suspect in the murders, but who also tries to teach her about the butcher business.  I really enjoyed seeing her reactions to the various things she had to do, considering the sight of raw meat tends to make her faint.  There's a great scene where the butcher tries to teach her to cook a steak and she sets his apartment on fire.

She and Lula are still bumbling around some of their takedowns, usually ending up with Stephanie getting hurt.  The broken nose scene is pretty good.

Then there's her relationships with Joe and Ranger.  She still can't make up her mind between the two of them.  Joe is a nice normal guy, and the sex between them is great.  They've been mostly together for a long time, but neither seems really ready to commit, but Stephanie is starting to think that way.  She actually looking at learning to cook, decorating her apartment, and pinning Joe down.  Just as she's ready to have a talk with him she gets a reminder look at his family as they show up at his place for a ball game.  His brothers and nieces and nephews are wild, with the kids seeming barely housebroken.  Then there's his grandmother Bella who hates Stephanie and is constantly giving her the evil eye.  This makes Stephanie rethink her position.  Joe also tends to not approve of her bounty hunter job and has often suggested she look at another type of job.

There's also the fact that she still has a thing for Ranger.  Just being around him tends to get her hot and bothered, but he's always been anti-commitment.   The thing about Ranger is that he's always there for Stephanie.  His protectiveness is constant.  All she has to do is call him and he's there within minutes.  Even when she doesn't call him he's watching out for her.  In this book there seems to be a slight changing of the anti-commitment attitude.  I love his patience as he seems to be waiting for her to make her choice.  I also love the way he accepts her just the way she is.  He doesn't try to change her, he even asks for her help.  In this book he leaves a lot of the investigation work in her hands, showing he has confidence in her abilities.  I can actually see her giving up the bounty hunter gig and going to work for Ranger permanently.

Overall, I will keep reading, just to see how those relationships progress.  I'm definitely rooting for Ranger these days.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Project: Runaway Bride - Heidi Betts (HD#2280 - Jan 2014)

Series: Project: Passion (Book 2)

Handbag designer Juliet Zaccaro should be walking down the aisle, so why is she running out of the church instead? Because she just found out she's pregnant, and not by her cruel, distant fiance Now it's up to private investigator Reid McCormack to bring her home. But once he finds her, he'll make sure she doesn't go back to her fiance--especially since the baby she's carrying might just be Reid's Even as Juliet denies their explosive chemistry, can Reid convince her that there's more between them than a baby bump?

Good book.  Juliet has always been the "good" girl of the family.  So even though she has her doubts, she's all dressed in her wedding finery ready to marry her fiance, rather than cause trouble by previously ending the engagement.  Until she takes a pregnancy test and discovers she's pregnant - and the baby isn't her fiance's.  So she runs, hoping to have a little time to decide what to do.  Reid is the PI sent by her sisters to find her and bring her home, not knowing that Reid and Juliet have been having a hot and heavy affair.  It doesn't take him long to track her down.  What he doesn't expect is to find out about his impending fatherhood!

I really liked Reid.  He has some trust issues thanks to a previous relationship, but he is a good guy at heart.  He first met Juliet during Lily's book (Project: Runaway Heiress) where he felt an immediate attraction to her.  He knew of her engagement so he tried very hard to keep their meetings on a professional level, until the day he saw signs of physical abuse.  I loved his protectiveness that day as he escorted her home to be sure she was safe.  That was also the beginning of their secret get togethers, first as friends but then escalating into lovers.  It was easy to see that Reid was falling hard for Juliet, but was resisting because of not wanting to risk his heart again.  Finding out she was pregnant brought out that protectiveness again, but he has some trouble convincing Juliet of their need to be together when he won't admit that his heart is involved.  I loved the ending and seeing him lay it all out for her.

I liked Juliet overall, but had trouble with some of her actions.  I couldn't understand why she stayed engaged to Paul after the abuse started.  I was glad when she broke it off to be with Reid, but totally stunned by her idiocy in breaking it off with Reid and going back to Paul.  I don't care how much trouble it will cause the families she shouldn't have done it!  I was glad to see her run when she did.  I liked the flashbacks of her history with Reid, but I really wanted to smack her.  To break things off with Reid because it wouldn't "look right" for her to be with him right after breaking things off with Paul was stupid and selfish.  I completely understood how that would make Reid angry.  Especially since Juliet knew she didn't love Paul during the time she and Reid were together, and that she was falling for Reid.  By the time Reid found her after the non-wedding she had accepted her feelings for him.  His marriage proposal just reminds her that she doesn't want another marriage without love.  I did like the way that she was going to make sure he was fully a part of the baby's life.  I also liked the way she started to take control of her life by telling her family the truth.  She finally became someone I could admire by the end of the book.  Now I'm really looking forward to Zoe's story.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Pregnant by Morning - Kat Cantrell (HD #2278 - Jan 2014)

One magical night in Venice brings two lost souls together...until a positive pregnancy test changes everything. 

What was meant to be a one-night affair has turned into much more for Texas businessman Matthew Wheeler. Something about Evangeline, the mysterious woman he met at a masquerade ball, propels him from his self-imposed exile. He's finally able to forget his tragic past and lose himself in this incredible woman. 

But letting go has a price. 

Evangeline's pregnancy announcement brings reality to their Venetian villa. Are they ready to take their secret affair public? Or will their romance end with the morning light?

Very good book. I loved the slow growth of their relationship as they got to know each other and the emotional development as they help each other heal.  Both Evangeline and Matt are in Venice to escape.  Evangeline was a famous singer until a botched operation on her vocal cords ruined her voice.  Now she feels like she has lost sight of who she is.  She has been wandering around Europe visiting friends as she tries to figure out what to do with her future.  We met Matt in Marriage With Benefits as he is still reeling from the death of his wife.  He turns the family business over to his brother and takes off for Venice to try to forget his pain until he's able to go back to his old life.  When they meet at a Carnevale party there is an instant connection between them.  Each recognizes the pain that the other is in and they agree to a one day at a time relationship.  I loved the way that their empathy with each other leads to their own healing.  Matt can see Evangeline's devastation at the loss of such an integral part of who she is.  Because of her fame there is a lot of media attention.  I loved the way that Matt was so protective of her when they were confronted by the two photographers.  Being with her starts healing his pain and he realizes that she makes him happy.  But he can't see her fitting into his life in Dallas because she is so different than his late wife.  It ticked me off that he was judgmental that way - he came off as a bit of a snob there.  Evangeline doesn't want any kind of permanent relationship.  She was hurt by the treatment she received from her ex-fiance and has lost all belief in romantic love.  She's quite content to have a physical relationship with Matt that will last until they tire of it.  It doesn't take long for that simple attraction to start to change.  His care for her is something she has never experienced before.  He helps her see new possibilities in her future without pushing her.  Just having him being there for her when she attempted an interview gave her confidence.  I loved seeing the way that she was able to face playing the piano by having Matt sitting with her as she did it.  I could feel her relief and happiness as her playing and writing came back to her.  The unexpected pregnancy throws them both into a tailspin.  Evangeline is afraid of being tied down and all Matt can think of is taking her to Dallas and making her part of his old life.  Each of them has to take a hard look at what they really want and what they need to do to get it.  I loved the ending as both of them realize what is most important.  The final scene in the kitchen is so sweet as they both get what they want.

Made in Texas! - Crystal Green (HSE #2259 - May 2013)

Series: Byrds of a Feather (Book 3)


Donna Byrd came west to claim her inheritance-not fall for a sweet-talking, sexy-as-sin Texas rancher. The New York City magazine entrepreneur knows exactly the type of man she wants to marry...and it's not Caleb Granger. So why is she fantasizing about having his baby?

The minute he lays eyes on Donna, Caleb knows he's found the woman to share a magical feather bed-and his life. But he'll have to use his special brand of Western persuasion to woo the reluctant big-city beauty.

Now, as a shattering revelation rocks the Byrd clan, can Caleb get Donna to see beyond the boots and Stetson to the family man who can make all her dreams come true? Because the soon-to-be-mother already owns the heart of this daddy-to-be lock, stock and cowboy! 

Good book.  Donna is at the ranch to help her sister and cousin get the B & B up and running before she goes back to New York to restart her magazine career.  She has very definite idea about the kind of man she wants in her life and Caleb isn't even close.  She's a city girl and being stuck in the country isn't what she wants.  But there is something about Caleb that keeps drawing her to him, and it's not just the physical attraction she feels toward him.  I have to say that Donna's attitude toward Caleb at first bothered me.  She seemed to look down on him because he wasn't a sophisticated city man.  She wasn't happy about the attraction she felt.  I enjoyed seeing her get to know him and realize what a good man he was.  As they got closer Donna could see the trouble he was having dealing with his father's dementia and wanted to help him.  She also discovered that he had some good insights into the situation her family was facing with a previously unknown sibling.  I liked the way that she listened to what he said about cherishing the time you have with your family. She has been emotionally withdrawn from her father since her mother's death and it got worse with the revelations of why he's been estranged from his brother and father.  Even as she and Caleb got closer she wasn't thinking in terms of a future with him, but just enjoying each other while she was there.  She doesn't really believe in the foretelling qualities of the feather bed, but ends up sleeping on it and dreaming of being pregnant.  When one night with Caleb does result in a pregnancy she isn't sure what to do.  She realizes she's fallen in love with him but is afraid to risk her heart.  I liked seeing how her family issues help her to see what she really wants with Caleb.  

Caleb has worked on the ranch for years and was very close to Donna's grandfather.  He could see what reconciling the family would have meant for her grandfather and does his best to make sure she understands.  Caleb had been interested in Donna from the first time he saw her.  When he gets the chance to spend some time with her he takes it.  Even though he can see that she is resisting the idea of something between them he persists in his pursuit.  He has a pretty romantic soul and I loved the dinner that he cooked for her.  I also enjoyed seeing him step up for her when she was having problems dealing with her family.  I liked the confidence that he showed in his pursuit of her but he also has his vulnerabilities.  His father's dementia has caused his dad to be very mean and say things that make Caleb feel rather worthless.  So even though he appears very confident to Donna, he is also fighting to feel that he is good enough for her.  I loved the conclusion and seeing both of them accept their feelings and move forward together.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It Began with a Crush - Lilian Darcy (HSE #2307 - Jan 2014)

Series: Cherry Sisters (Book 3)

Gorgeous Joe Capelli is back in town. Will a summer fling with former classmate Mary Jane Cherry lead to something more? 

Fifteen years ago, Joe Capelli left town to make his way in Hollywood--leaving Mary Jane Cherry behind to nurse her secret crush. So why is he suddenly back in town, working at his dad's garage--on her car? With twin little daughters, no less? 

All Mary Jane's ever wanted is a husband and family. She knows that desire normally sends guys running in the opposite direction. Yet as her old crush on Joe revives itself, dare she believe that gorgeous Joe actually wants her, too--and for more than just a steamy summer affair?

Good book.  I've been waiting for Mary Jane to have her dreams come true. She has always looked forward to having a husband and family of her own.  She spent a long time in a relationship with a man who seemed to be the one, but always put off any kind of commitment.  When she finally confronted him about it, he admitted he wasn't interested in that kind of future.  Brokenhearted she ended the relationship and figured that family may not be in her future.  She is happy for her two younger sisters who have found loves of their own, but also a little envious.  Then she runs into Joe Capelli, her high school crush.  He's changed from  the cocky teenager who was going to set Hollywood on fire, and is home with his twin daughters and working in his dad's garage.  Mary Jane feels an instant connection with him and senses that he's just as interested.  As they spend time together both with and without his girls, she feels herself falling for him.  But she's afraid that it's too fast and fears that she's forcing the relationship into her idea of a perfect life.  I really enjoyed seeing Mary Jane finally getting a shot at her own dreams.  She's marvelous with the two little girls and you can see that they like her too.  Her relationship with Joe is great.  She has been able to help him with his worries about the girls while at the same time having an intensely personal relationship too.  I just wish she had trusted her feelings a little bit more and saved them a little bit of heartache.

Joe left town years ago, swearing he would become the next great star.  He had some success, but ended up marrying a woman as ambitious as he was but weaker.  After giving birth to his twins her career started going downhill aided by her drug use and irresponsibility.  Joe divorced her but couldn't get custody of the girls until after she was proved unfit.  Since then he has been raising them on his own as he readjusts his plans for the future.  The girls are pretty mischievous and he worries that they may have inherited problems from their mother.  He decides to move back home and help his dad in his garage for awhile.  Meeting Mary Jane again reminds him of the good things from his past.  He likes the changes he sees in her and is attracted to her.  Noticing that she's looking back they decide to see where it might go.  I loved how determined he is to give the girls a better life than they'd had before.  He sees how good Mary Jane is with them which gets him thinking about the possibility of a future with her.  He also knows that what he feels with her is something far stronger than he's ever felt before.  It feels right to him and when it's right, it's right.  But his certainty doesn't seem to be meshing with Mary Jane's and he wonders if maybe he read something that wasn't there.  I liked the way that he didn't totally give up on her and they were able to talk things out. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Her Return to King's Bed - Maureen Child (HD #2269 - Dec 2013)

Series: Kings of California (Book 14)

She married him. Used him. Then left him. Rico King has waited five years for revenge. Now he's got Teresa Coretti where he wants her. To save her family, she'll return to Rico's island…and his bed…for one month. That will cure the hunger that's afflicted him since she left….

But Rico can't know what it cost Teresa to leave him. Nor the exquisite torture of being with him again. Because soon, her divided loyalties could once again cost her the love of her life.

Very good book.  Rico has been waiting for a chance to get his revenge on Teresa for what he saw as her betrayal.  He hasn't been able to forget her and this will be his chance to get her out of his system.  Meanwhile, Teresa hasn't been able to forget him either.  She regrets the choices she made but at the time didn't see what else she could do.  Now both of them have to decide whether pride is more important than love.

I liked both Rico and Teresa.  Teresa had been raised in a family that had been thieves for generations but when she became an adult she made the decision not to participate in that lifestyle.  Her father and brothers didn't understand, but eventually respected her decision.  When she met Rico the heat between them was instant, and they jumped into their relationship.  Their marriage happened quickly and she never got around to telling Rico about her family.  When they showed up and stole a priceless family heirloom from Rico she was furious and tried to get them to return it.  When he discovered the truth he accused her of using him for her family.  Her disappearance added fuel to that fire.  When she showed up once again trying to stop her family she found Rico ready for her.  Once again her family had gotten her in trouble with him.  This time she had to submit to his blackmail.  I loved seeing the way that she admitted to herself that she knew she had taken the chance knowing that he would likely catch her.  She regretted the changes in him that she blamed on herself.  During the month that she has to stay with Rico she decides to make the best of it and create memories to take with her when she leaves.  She and Rico start to get to know each other better than they had before and things start to change between them. Her love for Rico only gets stronger and she is fully aware of how unhappy she will be when she has to leave him behind again.  There were several points where she stood up to her family that were really great. I also loved the way that she became part of the life on the island and at the hotel so easily.  When she has to choose again, she has to decide who is more important to her - Rico or her family.

Rico hasn't been able to forget Teresa since she left him.  He couldn't believe that she had betrayed him like that.  Because of past experiences he can't stand to be lied to and all he could see was that she had lied to him.  When guests at his hotel have expensive jewelry stolen he suspects her family of doing it.  I loved the way that he figured it out and went to confront them.  He saw it as the perfect opportunity to force them to return his artifact and to get Teresa back in his bed.  He refuses to trust her and plans to keep her with him at all times.  What he doesn't expect is the effect that plan has on him.  I loved the way he explains it to his cousin Sean and then Sean laughs at him and tells him how much it will amuse him when it all blows up in Rico's face.  Rico isn't amused, but soon realizes that Sean was right.  Rico can't figure out what Teresa's plan is, why she's making friends left and right with the hotel employees and even his family.  Being with her is starting to make him think that maybe he had misjudged her all those years ago.  He finally admitted to himself that he still loved her, but couldn't bring himself to tell her.  I loved the concluding scene with Teresa, Rico, and Teresa's brother.

The Texas Ranger's Heiress Wife - Kate Welsh (HH #1163 - Dec 2013)


Pampered society princess Helena Conwell has built a successful ranch from a ruined wreck, but now hostile raiders are hungry for her land. Only one man can protect her -- Brendan Kane, the wild Texas Ranger she married at gunpoint.

After three years away, Brendan vows to defend the ranch and claim his wife back. Irish-born and darkly irresistible, he still has the power to quicken Helena's heart with his emerald-green gaze. But, each as fiercely proud as the other, can they admit to still being in love?

Good book.  Both Helena and Brendan have allowed their pride to keep them apart.  They met and fell in love three years earlier.  But Brendan didn't know her background and when he found she was an heiress he felt he wasn't worthy of her.  Helena was desperate to escape her unscrupulous guardian and used their love to force him to marry her.  When she gained access to her inheritance she used the money to buy a rundown ranch against Brendan's wishes.  He didn't want something purchased with her money when it was his job to support her.  He left her to become a ranger and she ran the ranch on her own.  Now there are raiders killing ranchers and Brendan has returned to protect her and find the culprit.  He also wants Helena back.

Helena is a strong and independent woman.  She had to grow up fast after Brendan left.  She had been somewhat spoiled by her father but her love for Brendan was real.  She didn't understand what his problem was with using her inheritance to buy the ranch.  When he left she put all her effort into making the ranch a success and has succeeded.  She is afraid of the raiders and what will happen if they attack her ranch.  However, she is not happy at Brendan's reappearance.  She'll accept his help in stopping the raiders but she wants nothing to do with him personally.  She is still furious and hurt over his desertion.  She has always felt like he left because he found her lacking in some way.  Her refusal to let him see her feelings has her saying some pretty nasty things to him.  It's  also a form of protection as she discovers that her feelings for him have never gone away.  I loved seeing the way that she showed him just how much she had changed.  The scene at the beginning with the calf that was stuck in the mud was great.  As the days went on they started to get to know each other again, but were still butting heads.  Things changed the day of the raid as they admitted that they wanted to try again.  Helena still refuses to tell him her feelings nor has she found a way to tell him of the biggest reason for her anger against him.  Helena also doesn't know that her "friend" Avery is the man behind the raids and continues her friendship with him.  She also has a tendency to blow off Brendan's rules for her safety.  I loved the way that she tried to do things to make things better but sometimes made them worse.  I loved her actions at the end and the help she got to save Brendan.  The suspense was pretty intense as she tried to avoid the bad guys and get to Brendan.  The confrontation with Avery at the end was fantastic.

Brendan was an Irish mine worker when he met Helena.  The feelings between them were instant and strong.  But he also had strong feelings against men like her guardian and when he found out the connection he was not happy with her.  The fact of her money made it even worse.  He tried to push her away because of their differences.  I loved his shock when she held a pistol on him and forced him to marry her to keep her away from her guardian.  The part where his sister helped was hysterical.  Once they moved west things were going great until she went against his wishes and bought the ranch.  His pride couldn't stand the fact that he wasn't the one who did it and he left her to become a ranger.  In three years he hasn't forgotten her and has been thinking about ways to get back to her.  The need to catch the raiders has given him the perfect opportunity.  He was surprised at her extreme anger but determined to keep her safe.  I also loved his reaction to finding out just how much she was responsible for the success of the ranch.  It gave him a whole different view of who she is.  He wasn't happy about her friendship with Avery but couldn't tell her why in order to protect her.  His fears for her when she was injured in the raid made him realize just how stupid he had been to stay away from her.  I loved seeing his care for her and the way they were repairing their relationship.  He let his pride rear its head again when it came to the social and nearly ruined everything.  It was fun seeing him try (unsuccessfully) to keep her away from the final confrontation.  It was great to see them admit just how much their pride had cost them and move forward.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sweet Laurel Falls - RaeAnne Thayne (HQN - Sept 2012)

Series: Hope's Crossing (Book 3)

Love knows no season
Spring should bring renewal, but Maura McKnight-Parker cannot escape the past. Still reeling from the loss of one daughter, the former free spirit is thrown for a loop by the return of her older daughter, Sage, and the reappearance of her first love, Sage's father. Jackson Lange never knew his daughter-never even knew that he'd left the love of his life pregnant when he fled their small town-but he has never forgotten Maura.

Now they are all back, but Sage has her own secret, one that will test the fragile bonds of a reunited family. Thrown together by circumstances and dedicated to those they love, Maura and Jackson must learn to move forward and let go of the mistakes of their past for the bright future that awaits them and their friends in Hope's Crossing.

Very good reunion story.  Maura is still reeling from the death of her younger daughter in a car accident.  She tries to put a good face on things for her friends and family but she isn't really in the mood for the holidays.  Her world is rocked even further when her older daughter comes home from college with a visitor - the father she never knew.  Maura had never told anyone who he was after he left their town saying he wouldn't be back.  She had tried to contact him but he didn't return her calls, so she continued on her own.  Maura has built a good life with family and friends and owns her own business.  Seeing Jack again has brought back memories, both good and bad.  I loved seeing the way that she and Jack were able to deal with each other in a civil manner from the beginning.  She was still angry with him for leaving and never contacting her, but she also admitted that there was still an attraction to him.  She also has to deal with the idea of Sage getting to know her father, and having to share Sage with him.  I liked the way that she was honest enough to admit to herself that she was jealous of Sage's new relationship with her father, fearing that she'll lose her special relationship with her daughter.  When an issue comes up with Sage that needs both her parents' support, Maura and Jack have to learn to coexist.  What they discover is that their love hadn't really died after all.  I loved the fact that they didn't just jump back into an intense relationship but took the time to get to know each other again and make sure that they had something that would work.

Jack couldn't wait to leave Hope's Crossing when he was a teenager.  His mother had had mental issues when he was growing up before killing herself, and his father had withdrawn to his business world.  When his father basically stole the land Jack had inherited from his mother, Jack had enough and left.  He wanted Maura to go with him, but she wasn't ready to leave everything behind.  Jack worked hard and  became a successful architect, frequently appearing as a guest lecturer at colleges, which was how he met Sage.  After discovering their connection he was furious at Maura for cheating him out of all those years of knowing his daughter.  As angry as he was, I appreciated the fact that he didn't get vocally mean to her and generally be a jerk.  He let her know that he planned to stay around and get to know Sage.  It was fun seeing his confusion about staying in Hope's Crossing when he had sworn he would never come back.  He couldn't understand why he felt compelled to stay.  I loved his growing feelings for Maura and loved it when he told her he wanted to see where their feelings would lead them. I liked the fact that it wasn't an overnight decision but a slow progression. Jack also had to deal with seeing his father again.  He still had a lot of anger toward his father and it was very hard to let it go.  That resolution wasn't an overnight thing either, which made it much more realistic.  

I liked the part that Sage had in this book.  Her feelings of betrayal were real when she found out about Jack, but she also still loved her mother and told her so.  I wasn't surprised by the problem that she had and found the way it echoed her mother's life pretty ironic.  That it did was one of the things that helped Jack and Maura deal with it so well.  I thought she showed pretty good maturity in her decision making.  I also enjoyed her relationship with her grandfather and the part she played in Jack and Harry's reconciliation.  Her emotions over the decisions she had to make at the end of the book were very realistic and I loved the solution that Harry came up with.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Sprinkling of Christmas Magic - Elizabeth Rolls, Bronwyn Scott, Margaret McPhee (HH #1159 - Nov 2013)

Christmas Cinderella - Elizabeth Rolls
Handsome country rector Alex Martindale dreams of kissing his spirited schoolmistress and never having to stop.... With some mistletoe, he may just get his wish.

Loved this sweet Cinderella story.  Polly is the poor relation in a local family.  When she hears that Alex is looking for a teacher for the new parish school, she goes to him and asks for the job.  Alex had been looking for a man for the job, but when he realizes the desperate straits Polly is in, he gives her the job.  He also discovers a passion in himself that he never expected and it's all directed toward Polly.  I loved seeing Alex watching out for Polly and compelled to visit her each day.  His gradual realization of his feelings toward her is so sweet.  I loved the way that he stands up for her against her nasty aunt.  Polly had a nice inheritance until an unscrupulous trustee stole it, leaving her penniless.  Her first job as a governess ended when a son of the house made advances to her and then blamed it on her.  She is miserable living with her aunt's family and determined to get out and stand on her own feet.  I loved her determination to prove herself to Alex.  She has a great rapport with the children and their families and quickly becomes loved by them all.  She grows to love Alex but worries that she is not a suitable woman for him to court.  I loved the ending with the visit by the bishop and his attitude toward everything that had happened.

Finding Forever at Christmas - Bronwyn Scott
At the yule ball, Catherine Emerson receives a proposal from the man she thought she wanted--but a kiss from his mysterious, darkly handsome brother unleashes a deeper desire....

Good story.  Catherine has come home after several years in Paris with her aunt.  She's been looking forward to seeing her friends again, especially Channing.  She finds herself spending more time with his older brother Finn and discovers that she has far more in common with him.  I loved seeing the way that Catherine and Finn naturally gravitated to each other.  There was a connection there that neither one could deny.  Catherine quickly realized that Channing was not a man that she could spend her life with when he did so many things that irritated her.  I loved seeing her growing interest in Finn and the way that she understood him. She was surprised by how much she liked being with him.  It didn't take too long for her to recognize her feelings but was sure nothing could come of them, especially with her mother telling her that Finn was too far above her. Finn was surprised by his quick attraction to Catherine.  He remembers her as the little girl who was friends with his siblings, but now sees her as a grown woman.  He'd much rather spend time with her than with yet another woman that his mother has deemed suitable for his bride.  He was a little confused by his feelings at first, but soon realized what he really wanted.  I loved the waltz scene and the way that they were so wrapped up in each other.

The Captain's Christmas Angel - Margaret McPhee
Returning to England for Christmas, Sarah Ellison discovers a man adrift in the Atlantic Ocean. Nothing could have prepared her for the gorgeous Captain Daniel Alexander, or the secrets he keeps!

Good story.  Sarah is returning to England for the holidays, taking her niece with her.  She has left behind the memories of her late husband, who had not been faithful, and a suitor who was trying to threaten her into marrying him.  While on deck one day she spies a man floating in the water.  After he is rescued she begins to get to know him.  He is always polite to her and kind to her niece and she starts to relax her guard around him.  I loved seeing the slow buildup of feelings  between them.  Daniel is watchful and cautious around her at first.  He has secrets that he must keep in order to protect her.  The scene of the storm was very intense and I could almost feel  the wind and waves as I read it.  I loved the way that he was able to make sure that they were safe.  He was also there when Sarah needed him during her niece's illness.  When they were rescued I could see how hard it was for Sarah to believe what she was told about him.  I loved the way that the rest of the story played out.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Her Road Home - Laura Drake (HS #1870 - Aug 2013)

Series: Widow's Grove (Book 1)

No white picket fences for her!

It's not in Samantha Crozier's DNA to ignore the call of the open road. The wind in her hair and the pavement beneath her bike are all Sam needs. Until she crashes into Widow's Grove and the arms of Nick Pinelli, that is. Nick is gorgeous, and pure temptation -- temptation Sam is determined to avoid. But with her motorcycle totaled, she's here for a while. So she comes up with a plan to renovate an abandoned house. Once that's done, she's gone.

However, the plan quickly backfires. She can't find any resistance to Nick's charm. Worse, for the first time, the house she's working on is beginning to feel like a home. Her home. And she knows that's all because of Nick.

Good book.  Sam lives for the open road.  A contractor by trade, she goes from town to town, finding a house to renovate, sell, and then move on.  A rainy night near Widow's Grove has her crashing her bike and being stuck in town for awhile.  She finds a house that's crying out for her talents, and a bike mechanic who knows his job.  He's got a boatload of charm that has her considering other options, if she can just get past her reasons for a life on the road.

I really liked Sam.  She an intelligent and tough biker chick.  She also has an unusual job for a woman.  When she ends up in Widow's Grove she knows that she'll be there for awhile waiting for her bike to be repaired.  When she finds an old Victorian house that calls out to her for help, she makes her plans to stay awhile.  Sam is a loner who usually does all the work on her houses by herself.  Because of her injuries she knows she'll need help.  She also doesn't get involved with any of the people in the towns she stays in.  But in Widow's Grove she finds herself behaving in a very uncharacteristic manner.  First she is drawn to Nick, the mechanic who is working on her bike.  She is comfortable with him as long as he doesn't try to get too close.  Sam makes sure he knows that she won't be staying past the time the house is finished.  But she finds herself growing closer to him and telling him things she's never told anyone else, things that still affect the way she lives her life. I loved the way that Sam and Nick became friends first, even though they admitted their attraction to each other.  Because of events in her past Sam has problems with letting Nick get close.  She will do well for awhile but then something will pull her away again.  He awakens her need to be loved, something she didn't even know she wanted.  And that need started her dreaming of having more if she could just trust herself and Nick.  Sam also discovers a talent for mentoring as she hires three teenagers to help her with the house.  I loved seeing the way that while she was teaching them about construction she was also teaching them about personal responsibility.  She also came to care for them in a way she'd never felt before.  I also loved seeing the way that she made friends with Jesse, who became the sort of friend she had never had before.  I had to laugh at the way Jesse would drag Sam shopping and doing other "girly" things. The arrival of the dog in her life was a great touch of humor and heartbreak as he made a place for himself in Sam's heart.  I loved the way that her life in Widow's Grove starts to heal her heart and soul, especially after she makes the decision to talk to someone and get help.  Her journey was slow and sometimes painful to see.  I loved seeing her take control of her life at the end and learn to trust herself.

Nick has had his own demons to fight.  He had a rocky childhood and made some bad decisions as a youth that took him away from Widow's Grove.  When he got himself together he came back home and opened his repair shop and started living a better life.  He has earned the respect and love of his friends.  Sam's appearance in his life makes him remember some dreams he's put aside for a long time.  He sees the gorgeous, tough biker chick on the outside, but he also sees the Sam she doesn't show the world.  I loved the way that he sees her fears and doesn't try to steamroller over them.  He has incredible kindness and patience as he helps her face her fears. I really liked getting Nick's point of view during the story, and seeing his thoughts on how to help her.   Helping Sam also helps him face his own problems, if only he can get her to stay.

I loved the feeling of real life throughout the book.  I really felt as though I could meet any of these characters in my own town.  No one was perfect but they were there for each other.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas on 4th Street - Susan Mallery (HQN - Sept 2013)

Series: Fool's Gold (Book 14)

Noelle Perkins just got a second chance at life, and she intends to make the most of every minute. That's why she ditched a frustrating legal career to open her own store in Fool's Gold, California. The Christmas Attic celebrates everything that's magical about her favorite season. Business is booming, and as a bonus, gorgeous army doctor Gabriel Boylan has offered to help out during the holiday rush.

Gabriel's memories of Christmas past contain more sour grapes than sugar plums, thanks to a drill sergeant father who ran his home like a boot camp. Spending the holidays with his family while he recuperates from injury sounds as appetizing as last year's eggnog. Still, there are some enjoyable distractions in town, including sunny, sexy Noelle…and the red-hot mistletoe kisses they can't stop sharing.

Gabriel didn't think he was made for happily-ever-afters. But when fate hands you a love as sweet and surprising as this, only a fool could refuse….

Excellent holiday story.  Noelle is settling in to her first holiday season with her new store.  She has made some good friends and she loves her new hometown.  While doing a favor for her friend Felicia and her fiance Gideon (Two of a Kind) she encounters Gideon's brother Gabriel.  There's an immediate connection between the two of them.  Gabriel is an army trauma doctor who is home recovering from an injury, but who hasn't spent time with his family in years.  Spending time with Noelle is just what he needs to keep him sane.  

Noelle is attracted to Gabriel and he is attracted to her, but he is trying to keep his distance.  His work in the war has caused him to avoid any kind of commitment.  He looks at relationships and thinks that something could happen to end it with no warning, so it is easier to avoid the risk altogether.   He sees Noelle as the type that wants the whole marriage and family thing and he doesn't want to hurt her by getting involved with her.  But he finds it impossible to stay away from her as her cheerful personality helps him find his own way.  

Gabriel has always had a rocky relationship with his father, who never understood his son's resistance to a life in the military, and didn't approve of his choice to be a doctor instead of a soldier.  I liked seeing the dynamics of the parents and the sons as they adjusted to the changes in all their lives.  I really didn't like Gabriel's father at first, but Fool's Gold had its effect on him also as his eyes were opened to the mistakes he made and what he needed to do to change.

Gabriel's time spent with Noelle begins to change the way he looks at his future. She starts to break through the walls he has built around his emotions.  The people of Fool's Gold are very different than anything he is used to and he's not quite sure how to deal with them. He is at a crossroads where he needs to decide if he's going back to being a military doctor or go in a different direction.  But he's not sure what he should do and the idea of opening himself up to emotional risk makes him panic and run.  I loved the way he finally realized what he was doing and what he had really wanted all along.  His reappearance at Noelle's was very satisfying.

Noelle has lived through some challenges in the last few years.  She lost her mom and grandmother in an accident, had some serious health issues, and was abandoned by her fiance.  In spite of all these things her outlook on life is that you never know what might happen so you should live your life to the fullest.  She looks at each day as a new adventure and meeting Gabriel is just one more thing to enjoy.  I love the way that she sees his need for an escape and gives him a job with her at her store.  She accepts his assertion that he doesn't do commitments and is there for him anyway.  The more time they spend together the more she can see of his struggles.  Her attraction grows into love, even though she knows that he won't be staying in Fool's Gold.  When his fears finally get to be too much, she admits her feelings to him, but also lets him know that she needs more than he can give and has to end things while she still can.

I loved Noelle's relationships with the various people of the town.  I loved seeing her deal with Felicia's insecurities, help with the wedding preparations, and participate in all the holiday hoopla.  I really enjoyed seeing the effect her enthusiasm had on Gabriel.  As usual, when Noelle's problems with Gabriel became known, the ladies of the town showed up for the margarita and food commiseration party. 

I always enjoy the appearances of characters from previous books.  Each has an important part in the story without it seeming contrived.  One of my favorite characters is always Mayor Marsha and her ability to provide just what is needed.  I loved her role in the Christmas tree hunt and could see the results of that coming as soon as she got involved.  I love the way she is always on the lookout for the people she needs for the good of her town and the lengths she goes to to get them.  I do wonder sometimes about how she gets her information as it can be pretty spooky.  I loved what she did for Gabriel.

Running From Scandal - Amanda McCabe (HH #1165 - Dec 2013)

Series: Bancrofts of Barton Park (Book 2)

The past is always hot on your heels…

Emma Bancroft used to pride herself on her sensible nature, but good sense flew out the window during her first Season in London! Her reputation and her belief in true love in tatters, she reluctantly returns home to Barton Park.

David Marton is trying to live a quiet life -- until Emma comes sweeping back. With whispers of scandal all about her, he knows she will never be the right woman for him, but sometimes temptation is just too hard to resist…. 

We first met Emma and David in The Runaway Countess, about Emma's sister Jane.  This book takes place several years later.  Emma eloped and lived to regret it, as her husband turned out to be a gambler and wastrel.  After his death she has returned to Barton Park to put her life back together.  David is a neighbor who has known Emma for a long time.  He was attracted to her long ago, but considered her too frivolous and married someone else.  That woman died while running away with a lover, leaving David with their five year old daughter.  The attraction is still there between them, but neither one considers it a good idea.

I liked Emma very much.  She admitted to the mistakes she made in the past and is determined to overcome them.  She has a fair amount of pride and hates the idea of having to go to her sister for help.  Rather than live in the main house, Emma has moved into one of the estate cottages.  She is settling in there when she meets David again.  She remembers him as a very stiff man, very proper and one who appeared to look down on her all those years ago.  Her initial impression is that he hasn't changed at all.  When she sees him again on several occasions she begins to think that he isn't as bad as he appears on the surface, especially when she sees him with his daughter.  She really takes to the little girl, who reminds her a lot of herself, when she sees how much Beatrice likes to read.  David asks Emma to give his daughter lessons while he searches for a governess.  I loved seeing how Emma and Bea had so much fun together and how it helped Bea return to the happy little girl she had been before her mother's death.  The lessons also put Emma and David in contact more often.  Emma found that, when David relaxed his attitude, he could be a lot of fun and that they had more in common than she expected.  She was also very attracted to him.  As her feelings started to change and grow she faced the fact that because of her rather scandalous past she could never be the kind of woman David would want as a wife and mother for Bea.  She was really down on herself about it.  It only got worse when her husband's cousin showed up, trying to collect money owed to him.  He was not a nice man at all and his presence just reminded her of what couldn't be.  I loved the ending and seeing the way that David convinced her of his love.

David had always been on the serious side, except for a brief period in his youth.  He had seen the problems that excessive emotion could cause and he wanted nothing to do with it.  He took his sister's advice when he picked his wife and lived to regret it.  Now he has brought his daughter home to the country as he starts to build a new life away from London.  He worries about Bea, who has changed into a very quiet and withdrawn child.  He knows he should eventually marry again and plans to choose his next wife very carefully.  While he is drawn to Emma he considers her to be too much to make the kind of wife he needs.  He is being "encouraged" by his sister to look at a friend of hers.  He isn't really interested because his sister had been so off the last time, plus Bea doesn't like the woman at all.  He can't believe how quickly Bea has gotten attached to Emma but can also see the positive changes in her.  I loved his slow realization that being around Emma makes him happy in a way he had never known before.  He also develops a protectiveness toward her that wants to save her from her problems.  I loved his rescue of her from the ruins and his conversation later with Emma's brother-in-law.  The scene at the assembly is great as he shows Emma just what she means to him.

One of the things I loved most about this book was the way it showcased a love of reading.  Emma had always been a bookworm and I really enjoyed her visits to the local bookshop.  It got even better when she decided she wanted to own it when the current owner retires.  It also gave her a marvelous way to relate to Bea.  It was fun to see them talk about books and the way that Emma encouraged Bea's interests.