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Rising Assets by Rebecca Zanzetti Will Have Your Blood Pressure Skyrocketing…In the Best Way

31 Mar

Rising Assets (Maverick Montana #3 – Colton and Melanie) by Rebecca Zanzetti (Entangled Brazen, March 31, 2014)

It’s an unfortunate truth that while I love Western romance, I rarely get the pleasure of a novel that meets me on all counts – evoking a strong sense of place, emphasizing an imperfect but loving family, possessing driving conflict and providing an off the charts steamy romance.

Yet Rebecca Zanzetti scores perfect 10s in every category with her Maverick Montana series and she particularly knocks it out of the park with Rising Assets, the third book in these Western romances (we’ve plenty more siblings, thank heavens, so more books to come!).

Colton Freeze is both a cowboy comfortable chasing down stray cattle on the back of a horse as well as a keen businessman who wears an expensive suit while choosing his family’s investments. He has a life plan, a business plan, and probably a couple of others and no one ever changes them. No one would dare.

Except his best friend, Melanie Jacobs, that is. He’s spent his life ignoring the fact that she is of the feminine persuasion, but seeing her working her third job in the scanty attire of a barmaid has him seeing red. If she was hard up for money why didn’t she come to him? And when did her ass become so amazing?

Mel isn’t going to anyone for help, because her problem is of the most private kind. Recently having discovered that her biological clock isn’t just ticking, it’s almost run out of steam, has hurt her profoundly. That her pushy best friend Colton is back in town and demanding answers – and worse, offering to help – is a complication she didn’t need, one that ratchets into the stratosphere when their incessant arguing leads to a kiss that rocks both their world.

Glacier National Park in Montana (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Glacier National Park in Montana (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Now Mel has thrown Colt through a loop and everything is falling apart, his family’s business hits roadblocks, his best friend is hiding a secret, and the entire town is betting on when he and Mel will get together. But Mel isn’t going to let Colt throw his plan away on her no matter how badly she wants a baby while she can still make one, no matter how much this man doesn’t hear “no” when people are yelling it at him.

If you haven’t read Rebecca Zanzetti yet, this is the series to try. It’s impossible not to love every single person in this family, including the extended “friends” who are really family and the tight-knit town with its eccentric characters wins you over in a heartbeat. Zanzetti writes for the Brazen line for a reason – her sex scenes are un-freakin-believable and the dominant Colt and his ability to see a thrown gauntlet will induce a sweat no matter how cold it is outside.

Take advantage of Entangled’s amazing  $.99 deal for recently published books – you don’t need to read the previous books to appreciate the nuances of this installment in the series. Compelling heroes and heroines who know how to heat up the sheets (when they even get to a bed, which isn’t often), lots of loving family and a Western setting that will make your heart ache, is what the Montana Maverick series, and Rising Assets in particular, has to offer.

December Read-a-Thon: Put a Little Cowboy in Your Holiday with Cowboys & Angels by Vicki Lewis Thompson

27 Dec

Cowboys & Angels (Sons of Chance #13 – Trey and Elle) by Vicki Lewis Thompson (Harlequin Blaze, December 1, 2013)

There is a lot to love about Vicki Lewis Thompson – she’s an expert at writing heroes who aren’t bruising alphas (but who don’t lack sexiness or conviction); she’s phenomenally versatile with contemporary, paranormal, military and western books in her oeuvre; she’s prolific so fans never have to wait long before another great book of hers comes down the pike; and she seems like a great person, as evidenced by the love of family and animals expressed on her Facebook and Twitter accounts.

This holiday season, she’s given us yet another reason to appreciate her with the thirteenth installment of her wonderful western series, the Sons of Chance.

Based on the group of siblings who run a horse breeding operation and ranch not far from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Sons of Chance series not only focuses on the Chance siblings but also on their extended family, friends and ranch hands. Thompson writes these books so you can easily pick up one and understand everything (although be warned you’ll find the secondary characters interesting enough that you’ll go out and find their books to read after sampling them in a few pages).

In Cowboys & Angels, Trey Wheeler has never stopped looking for his angel. Last spring, distracted from a bad breakup with his girlfriend, he lost control of his car and ended up thrown into a snowbank. A woman rescued him – a blond angel with blue eyes and a musical voice – but he never discovered her name and his concussion made it hard to remember exactly what she looked like. After months of looking, he still hasn’t given up hope, but to commemorate her saving him he had a pair of angel’s wings tattooed on his arm.

In Jackson Hole for the wedding of longstanding friends (who have booked an entire ski resort for the weekend to the delight of the Chance family and their friends), he’s shocked to be in the local gift shop and hear the voice of his angel. One good look at her and he feels like he has another concussion – she’s gorgeous, modest about helping him, and a ski instructor at the resort. Elle Masterson is the total package and Trey’s already halfway to being in love with her. Too bad she’s looking at him like he’s a card short of a full deck.

Harlequin Blaze December 2013 Bundle – a terrific deal at only $9.99 for almost 700 pages of killer Blaze novels and anthologies.

Elle immediately recognizes the cowboy she helped out of a snowbank and into a hospital. His accident happened right before she left for her summer job teaching skiing in Argentina, but she’s back for her shift in Jackson Hole. He’s even better looking than she remembered (and that’s saying something) but his gratitude and the fact that he had brokenly called for a woman when he was injured tells Elle that Trey is a full-throttle kind of guy, and with her life split over two continents for her job, she can’t do anything but casual. Still, Trey doesn’t give up and a combination of the fact that he’s a great musician – who wrote her a song back when she was his anonymous angel, for goodness sake – and that he delivers knee-weakening kisses make her throw her “no relationships with guests” rule to the wind. But she’s worried that she’ll be nothing but heartache to a man who can’t give less than everything and that she’ll discover that the heart she’s guarded for so long can definitely be broken.

OMG – I love it that a common trope in Thompson’s work is the heroine who is definitely not ready for a long-term relationship, either because she’s been burned in the past or because her career is at a place where it’s hard to fit in. It’s always impressive that in the length of a category romance novel (which we all know isn’t long) she manages to give us enough backstory on Elle to understand her tough family situation and how she’s worked hard all her life to not get attached to people or places. That pathology forms an understandable barrier when it comes to resisting Trey and she’s only half-successful, because – my God – who could resist him? He’s such a romantic and the perfect gentlemen (respectful to women at all times and a tiger in the sack – yowza). Trey is tailor-made for breaking down Elle’s defenses and I liked that her epiphany was a little slow in coming, with the perfect denouement occurring at Christmas on the ranch.

Cowboys & Angels is a fantastic western holiday novel which moves quickly and to an excellent resolution. Keep in mind that Harlequin is also offering it as part of a four-novel holiday bundle for only $9.99, which includes Tawny Weber’s Naughty Christmas Nights as well as the anthology A Soldier’s Christmas featuring a wonderful reunion story by Leslie Kelly. Just the novel by itself will only set you back around $3.00, so either deal is a great holiday bargain.

Give yourself a hot, romantic cowboy for the holiday with this fantastic book from Vicki Lewis Thompson. You’ll find very quickly that you’re in the mood for country. ;-)

Happy reading!

R. C. Ryan’s Josh Is Great Western Suspense in Her Wyoming Sky Trilogy

17 Oct

Josh (Wyoming Sky #2 – Josh and Sierra) by R. C. Ryan (Forever, 2012)

Sometimes I just wake up, look at my to-read list and think, “Today, I really need a Western romance.”

I’m not 100% sure what spurs it, but the feeling has something to do with wanting independent people working for themselves on land that speaks to them. Horses and cowboys are always great, but not required, and if the author really, truly can bring a region to life – to the point of making me practically breathe in that fresh air – then I’m happy as a clam.

R. C. Ryan is just this kind of author and Josh, the second of her Wyoming Sky trilogy about three brothers living with their father and grandfather while working the family ranch, satisfied my every craving.

Josh Conway has always loved the Teton Mountains which back up to his family’s ranch, Devil’s Wilderness, in the Big Sky country of Wyoming. Since he was a child, he has disappeared for hours on end to seek solace in the ridges and wildlife of the mountains, and even as an adult is often called upon by the Park Rangers to help find lost hikers because of his intimate knowledge with the land.

When he’s asked to find one stray wildlife photographer, Sierra Moore, he feels mostly annoyance at having to face the bad weather to hunt down yet another person who didn’t know their limits. He’s therefore shocked to discover not only is she fine in her snug tent but she’s indignant that he assumed she needed rescuing.

Sierra actually does need rescuing but not from the climb. When the handsome rancher accompanies her back to the ranger station, Sierra is dismayed to find a threatening note from the man she fled Paris to avoid. It seems he’s followed her all the way to Wyoming and is intent on making her his, no matter the cost. After a lifetime of trusting no man and not believing in love, Sierra finds herself surrounded by the loving Conway family who demonstrate daily how love can be a bedrock to build a life upon, with Josh Conway in particular indicating that his feelings for Sierra run deeper than just the fling she anticipated.

I feel so hard for both the hero and heroine of this novel! Sierra has had a crap childhood with distant, hippie parents and a series of boarding schools, yet she is so open to life personally and professionally in her photography that she spreads a brand of sunshine wherever she goes. Josh and his family respond to it, even as they circle the wagons against the threat of the wealthy European stalker she’s picked up along the way. Josh is the quiet type, but not a brooder (thank heavens) – just a man who feels nature and his mountains deeply and is thrilled to see them through Sierra’s enthusiastic eyes.

Quinn (Wyoming Sky #1 – Quinn and Cheyenne) by R. C. Ryan (Forever, February 2012)

There are several terrific elements that bind these three books together. The first is the sense of loss – grandfather Big Jim lost his beloved wife Clementine and five sons (all buried in the family graveyard and he talks to Clemmy often) and Cole’s wife, his beloved Seraphine, just disappeared one day. The family has no idea what happened to her and the pain of that mystery has been handled in different ways by the Conway men.

Of course, the minor characters of the two women who have worked at the ranch for over 20 years – Phoebe and Ela – as well as the townspeople further reinforce the sense of tight community bonds which support the Conway family. And the Conway family is exactly the type that romance readers love to read about. A tight, loving Irish family who work and play together with plenty of yelling and laughter, well, that’s exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to romance, isn’t it?

I expected the suspense plot to be an afterthought but there are really two layers here. One, the immediate danger to Sierra with her Euro-stalker in all his glory and two, the mystery of the Conway boys’ missing mother. It provides a nice juxtaposition as each of the Conway men feel almost more protective of the women in their lives after losing the grandmother and mother who meant so much to them.

It should not be shocking that R. C. Ryan does suspense well – you’ll note that the cover blurb for Josh is from none other than Nora Roberts. It turns out that R. C. Ryan is the contemporary pen name for historical and romantic suspense author Ruth Ryan Langan, who has actually published stories in multiple anthologies with Roberts when she writes as J. D. Robb. Quite an endorsement, eh? I think so, too.

I plan on devouring the other books in the Wyoming Sky series as I have found a family I’m ready to be a part of (and they have a jetted tub in the guest room – sign me up!). R. C. Ryan has crafted an emotional romance with three-dimensional characters in a setting that calls for facing fears and living life fully. Happy reading!

Cat Johnson Shows Us How Oklahoma Nights Are Steamy in Two Times As Hot

23 Sep

Two Times As Hot (Oklahoma Nights #2 – Logan and Emma) by Cat Johnson (Kensington, September 24, 2013)

Sometimes I am just in the mood for a cowboy romance, but I happen to like the books that don’t cater to what they think a reader believes cowboys are like, instead heading straight to a more authentic view of modern life where bulls and horses are as natural as driving pickup truck. Cat Johnson is fortunately an author whose authentic voice trumpets loud and clear through her characters and in her settings, so I was eager to try her latest novel, via NetGalley.

Two Times As Hot certainly lived up to its name and to its cover (letting us know beer wasn’t going to be the only thing found in six pack form inside this novel *wink*). While it is the second book in Cat Johnson’s Oklahoma Nights series, the prologue and epilogue are so well done as to provide the reader with a seamless understanding of the other characters and storylines, allowing anyone to jump right in and enjoy the book fully.

One Night with a Cowboy (Oklahoma Nights #1 – Tuck and Becca) by Cat Johnson (Kensington, February 26, 2013)

Johnson positions a flashback right at the start (which shows the beginning of One Night with a Cowboy) to the night New York native Emma takes her sister Becca to an Oklahoma rodeo to blow off some steam and hopefully find someone for the night. Emma wants Becca to loosen up before interviewing for an English professor position at the local university and Mr. Rodeo is just what the doctor ordered (Emma being the doctor). Emma herself almost hooks up with Tuck’s friend, Jace, but he’s called away at the last minute to help his ex-girlfriend with a car problem and she never hears from him again. Oh, well.

Flash forward to a year later and Emma is arriving dressed to kill at Becca and Tuck’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Yes, she wants to rub Jace’s face in exactly what he missed out on, but a bigger fish actually bites her hook – in the form of oh-so-sexy, no-games-playing Lieutenant Colonel Logan Hunt, Tuck’s commanding officer in the military science department of the university where he and Becca teach. Logan is fast approaching forty and feeling a little wistful that his career has had him missing an opportunity to find someone who would look at him the way Becca is looking at Tuck. But all that is driven out of his mind the minute he sees Emma unfold those long legs bared by her little black dress from the family rental car.

Three Weeks with a Bull Rider (Oklahoma Nights #3 – Jace and Tara) by Cat Johnson (Kensington, March 2014)

From the minute their eyes connect, the sexual tension between Logan and Emma is so startling that even the besotted couple getting married notice it. Yet continual distractions exist, with Jace attempting to get back into Emma’s good graces (and her bed) and Tuck’s little sister Tara deciding she’s all grown up and ready to show the much older Logan that she wants to act on the feelings she’s had for him since she was a child. But Logan didn’t survive Afghanistan to have these kind of logistical problems throw him through a loop. He and Emma have a mind-blowing night (and morning) before she gets back on a plane to head home.

Yet this is when all hell breaks loose for Logan, who doesn’t even have the time to wrangle her phone number from someone so he can let her know how much he’s missing her. Emma back in the city is miserable that her sister and her new husband have dropped off the face of the earth for three weeks and the man who gave her the best sex of her life also hasn’t lifted the phone to call. She’s feeling unsettled and unhappy and life intervenes to show her that she needs to head back to Oklahoma in order to figure out exactly what Logan and she might have. Right. Now.

There were so many pieces of this book that I not only enjoyed but found downright refreshing. The dialogue and language was true to the characters while never venturing into the wince-worthy “hick” dialect that so many authors feel necessary for cowboy romance. While there was a decent amount of jealousy and tension regarding Jace and Tara, the reader was always comforted that Logan and Emma were clear on who they wanted to be with, and the little triangles made the drama seem so realistic, I felt I was at a real wedding! Can I also complement Cat Johnson on demonstrating how a hero can be a strong man while also not being an asshole? It’s a pretty key point that so many writers today seem to miss, and she demonstrates how Logan is a sexy, dominating guy while being a gentleman down to his toes.

Based on the teaser chapter at the end, it’s clear that Tara and Jace are going to have to move beyond their hang-ups and issues to grow up a little since they are clearly the next intended match in the Oklahoma Nights series, with their story, Three Weeks With a Bull Rider, projected to come out in March of 2014. I for one am looking forward to going along for the ride and seeing another Oklahoma couple steam up Stillwater. :-)

Brenda Jackson’s Latest Westmoreland Novel, Stern, Hits All the Soft Spots

26 Aug

Stern (Westmoreland #27 – Stern and JoJo’s story) by Brenda Jackson (Harlequin Desire, August 27, 2013)

I know what you are thinking. Stern? Maybe after writing no fewer than twenty-freaking-seven books in an incredibly popular series, you’ve got to pull out all the stops in the name department. After all, this guy’s brothers are Canyon and Zane! At least they are all cowboy businessmen – it’s hard to imagine someone from Minneapolis pulling Stern off.

Stern is the 27th book in the ever popular and always heart warming Westmoreland series (and is that the reason it debuts on the 27th? If so, clever, clever Harlequin!). As with so many larger series, this one is broken up into several smaller “series within a series,” usually in the form of trilogies centering around a group of siblings.

Stern Westmoreland is a self-confessed ladies man who has never been tempted to have even a long term relationship with a girlfriend, to say nothing of marriage. He’s baffled by his brothers’ and cousins’ recent rush to the altar and while he’s happy for them, he’s pretty smug in his lifestyle.

But a wrench is about to be thrown in the cogs of his life. His best friend, JoJo, has been there for him since middle school and they’ve always looked out for one another. Stern knows that she’s never been serious about anyone, preferring to learn hunting and cars at her father’s knee. She can usually outshoot Stern at the hunting lodge he bought for their regular getaways and she’s definitely kept up the thriving auto shop she inherited after her dad’s death. But JoJo is acting strange, asking Stern how to attract a man, and it’s making him damn unsettled.

Brenda Jackson with a few of her recent blockbuster novels (Zane is the same trilogy as Stern).

JoJo is feeling pretty unsettled herself. She came to the head-smacking realization a few months ago that she was actually having feelings for her best friend and she knows not only is she not his type but she doesn’t want to endanger their friendship. She has fixed the car of a handsome and dapper man who actually reminds her of Stern and her best idea is to start something up with this guy to divert herself away from the impossible. But she’s worried that her casual clothes and outdoorsy tastes are not exactly the bombshell qualities that attract most men. Who better than Stern to teach her what to do to dazzle a man’s eye?

While Stern tries to make JoJo see that any man should be more than glad to get her just as she is (he’s beaten up guys in high school for making her feel inadequate), he can’t believe he blurted out the piece about how most women do makeovers. Now he has to watch JoJo come back from a city trip with his female relatives looking absolutely edible. As relatives cast knowing glances in his direction, Stern must face the fact that the reason he’s never considered having a long-term woman in his life is that he already had one…and she’s perfect for him.

I adore “best friends to lovers” romances because of the long-standing comfort level and knowledge each character has of the other. Watching Stern absorb his brother’s comments and analyze his feelings for JoJo is priceless, as is his sneaky determination to derail any interest she might have in someone else. JoJo is a bit naive – despite her being in her late twenties – but I chose to see this as she is just so trusting of Stern’s character that even after he agrees to give her “kissing lessons” she doesn’t see his obvious physical reaction as being an expression of genuine passion.

There were a few points to this book that I thought felt the tiniest bit off. JoJo is nearing thirty and not only is she a virgin (!) but she also has never been kissed aside from some slobbering in the 10th grade. When she and Stern hook up seriously for the first time, you get the impression that she’s never even had an orgasm before him. Um, how is this possible in this day and age? I absolutely believe that Stern is her best friend, but JoJo must have women friends, a health textbook, cable tv, etc. that would convince her to do a little healthy self-exploration, right? She sounds fabulous and with her traditionally male tastes I found it highly unlikely there wouldn’t be a host of guys flocking around her grateful that she speaks their language. These are pretty small detractions to the otherwise total buy-in I gave this novel, so maybe this is just me.

Canyon is the other brother in the same trilogy, along with Zane and Stern.

The Westmoreland series has the quality that draws so many of us to family-based series, namely that in the end, you can picture yourself as part of the crowd and you care enough to want to see each and every one of them get their happy ending. Family values also manage to come across the page with a talented writer like Jackson, who readily admits that her personal attraction to family series comes from having a large family herself.

Even if the name gives you pause, it should be balanced out by the name of that wonderful author, Brenda Jackson. The year 2013 actually represents a milestone for Jackson, with her 100th book being published the year she turns 60 - an incredible personal achievement for any author, but especially one who published her first novel in 1995. Married to her husband for over forty years (she still wears the steady ring he gave her when she was 15), Jackson amazingly worked full time for State Farm Insurance until her retirement a few years ago, always declaring her romance writing a “hobby.” While many writers who have achieved her level of success might be tempted to move onto longer romance books with a different imprint, Jackson has remained faithful to Harlequin and (if rumors are true regarding her book deals) she’s been appropriately rewarded for it.

In a world where African American readers can have a hard time finding protagonists who look like them, Jackson has also accomplished something very special. While imprints like Kimani Romance specialize in multicultural characters, I haven’t seen a lot of evidence suggesting that there is a strong white readership of these books (a shame because there are a lot of great writers in that line). Because Jackson’s Westmoreland series is based off the premise of a great-grandparent who had multiple wives and kept leaving one for another as he made his way out West, the Westmoreland family is one trying to find their relatives (perhaps mirroring the recent upsurge in genealogy). What they discover are both African American and European American branches of the same family. It’s a blending that I think has lent itself to many readers dipping their toes into books they would otherwise not have picked up and finding that the water is just right!

Please do note that the August 27th release of Stern actually has the bonus story, Bachelor Untamed (which wasn’t in my ARC from NetGalley so I can’t comment on it), giving rise to the slightly higher price tag. If Stern is all you want, there is a standalone version of that book coming out on September 3rd that goes for a couple of dollars less.

I’ve loved all the Westmoreland novels I’ve read and it’s a testimony to Jackson’s writing style that I’ve never felt like I needed to read all the books in the series to understand what’s going on – they work together and as stand alone novels. Stern is a fabulous addition to the series and I dare you to stop at reading just this one. Many thanks to Brenda Jackson for all her quality writing and congratulations on hitting all her significant milestones this year!

Countdown to Christmas: Cowboys and Snow Add Up to Holiday Sexy in Carolyn Brown’s Mistletoe Cowboy

1 Dec

Mistletoe Cowboy (Spikes and Spurs #5) by Carolyn Brown (Sourcebooks, October 2, 2012)

There are a lot of wonderful romance novels entirely based on the December holidays. Littering the shelves by Halloween, their covers are filled with bare torsos, snow, and twinkle lights (those torsos must have gooseflesh, for sure!). Rather than be annoyed by it, I love them – what could be more romantic than the holidays which celebrate light in the darkest time of the year? I plan on having a whole “Countdown to Christmas” series this month, highlighting the stories which will bring some holiday cheer right into your hands and heart, so let’s get started.

When I feel like a little Texas twang in my romance, I know who to turn to - Carolyn Brown. I enjoyed One Hot Cowboy Wedding from her Spikes & Spurs series, and now she’s back, taking another sexy Riley brother off the market (thank heavens their mother had the foresight to have seven of them) in Mistletoe Cowboy.The good news is that you do not need to have read any other books in the series to enjoy this one, although chances are you’ll end up picking up one of them if Brown’s brand of romance resonates with you the way it’s done with so many other readers. She’s not a New York Times Bestselling author for nothing!

I’ve written before that, since I fell for my wonderful hero during a blizzard, I’m far from cynical about using this device in romance novels. It’s a great way to trap two people who would otherwise not choose to be together and have them truly get to know one another.

That’s exactly what happens in this heartwarming book. Sage Presley is spitting mad, so much so that she’s driving in the middle of a blizzard to the ranch where her grandmother raised her to have a huge fight. Her Grandmother told her on the phone that she had decided to sell the Rockin’ C to some cowboy she just met. She was giving them both three weeks to think on the deal and he could stay at the place and take care of the livestock while they were considering.

Arriving to the dark house with the electricity already out, Sage discovers her grandmother already left for Pennsylvania to visit her sister, undoubtedly to dodge the storm and to dodge Sage’s wrath. She rolls into her bed still in a temper with her one consolation that the blizzard will at least spare her the company of whatever rotten person is trying to buy her family home.

Naturally, she practically has a heart attack when a sexy, snow-covered cowboy walks through the front door the next morning. It seems Creed Riley, the would-be purchaser of the ranch, got there before the storm. While before the thought of facing the angry granddaughter gave him chills, his chills are now of a totally different kind. This 5 foot 10 inch dark-haired beauty is not what he expected from the description he heard and the pictures in the house don’t do her justice. She’s as plainspoken as they come, making it clear that she is not happy with his designs on the ranch, but that doesn’t stop them from getting to know each other over the next few days. Civility morphs into kissing, which morphs into more horizontal activity, and pretty soon they are both in over their heads. Creed’s sworn off long-term relationships after his fiancee dumped him and Sage has never believed in committment since people you love just up and leave. So where exactly can this go?

The Palo Duro Canyon in the panhandle of Texas where the Rockin’ C Ranch is located (granted there’s a little less snow in this shot than in the story!)

Carolyn Brown has some definite strengths. She writes an unbelievably strong sense of place, so much so that I find myself ready to take a road trip cross-country and visit the fine state of Texas when I turn the last page. She is not one for excessive description, particularly the dialogue padding I often rely on to figure out what the characters are feeling. Instead she has a snappy back-and-forth that puts you in mind of a Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movie if they used “y’all” and “passel” as regular vocabulary. The language is always an adjustment for me; I get kind of annoyed for the first chapter or so with the poor grammar asking myself “do people really speak like this?” and then something inside me just relaxes into the speech pattern and I end up loving it. Go figure.

I liked how Brown used Sage’s livelihood of painting to show what was underneath her prickly exterior and I loved the homeless pregnant or newly birthed animals (you’d think the Rockin’ C was an inn in Bethlehem, albeit with room for all) to further drive home the Christmas theme. It’s hard to not appreciate the complexity of an author who has her characters go to church and say grace before meals but also have hot (emotional) sex on the living room credenza. There are plenty of people who live with that spiritual dichotomy in their lives, and I like seeing it in a romance novel.

The absolute best aspect of this book is that, in Sage’s love for her home, Brown brings us to a place where home is not where you hire someone else to mow the lawn you bought two years ago, but rather is a place of livelihood and sweat with a family cemetery on the property and generations of happiness leached into the wood. This kind of connection to where you grew up has become less and less common but I bet there are plenty of readers out there who crave it in their lives. While many of us can’t manufacture the old homestead, we nevertheless can enjoy it second-hand in romance novels, like those written by Carolyn Brown. Thanks, Carolyn!

Why Can’t I Find a Romance Novel with Native Americans I Can Feel Good About?: The Peacemaker by Chelley Kitzmiller and Reflections on Stereotypes

10 Jul

The Peacemaker (Book 1 in Warriors of the Wind series) by Chelley Kitzmiller (TKA Distribution, March 2012)

I’m irritated with myself.

Before I requested this book on NetGalley, I had an internal debate. I rarely like historical romance fiction which caters to the fans of Native American romance novels, simply because I have yet to read one (and yes, I’ve read several) that doesn’t succumb to stereotypes.

In a world of romance fiction that thankfully frequently embraces cultural differences and sexual orientations (it can do better, but it’s come a long way), it seems like romance fiction which has a Native American character or tribe as a key plot focus immediately jumps back into the bodice ripper assumptions of the 1980s. Yuck.

I’m afraid not only does The Peacemaker by Chelley Kitzmiller have bizarre and unfortunate stereotypes but it’s also just a poorly written romance novel.

Miss Independence Taylor is a miss of undetermined age headed from St. Louis to the Arizonia territory to meet up with her estranged father, a colonel in the army. The tension between them exists because Indy’s father blames her for the death of her mother and brother since she brought smallpox home after working at an orphanage. She thinks braving the horrors of stagecoach travel and an army escort in order to make a home for her father will mend their fences.

As she sets out with a small escort who has come to pick up the fort’s mail and found her as well, they are beset by two groups of Apache. The nice captain in charge of the escort gives Indy a pistol to not only help defend herself, but to also leave one bullet in the chamber for herself so she does not suffer the fate of Apache captives. In the course of aiding the soldiers, she does shoot at several of the Indians firing arrows at them but before she can kill herself, one man jumps on the wagon (which had careened out of control) and takes the pistol away from her, simultaneously putting his hands all over her. Fearing rape, she passes out from a head wound only to wake up among the recuperating remaining soldiers from her escort to discover that this man is actually an Apache scout known as Shatto, who actually rescued her by counterattacking a force from another group which appeared bent on killing them. The handsy incident was him checking her wounds since she had a head wound and the captain’s blood all over her.

Indy later finds out that, rather than the inscrutable Apache warrior she believes him to be, Shatto is actually Major Jim Garrity, a former soldier tried for murder during the Civil War and sentenced to death before escaping. Naturally the charges against him are false and he has made another life for himself as a close friend of a group of Apache. Really coincidentally, he is best friend (from his time in West Point) with the captain who helped save Indy. This immediately felt unlikely to me. Jim Garrity manages to “go native” with a group of Apache (who accept him seemingly without difficulty), master their language, learn all their warrior techniques, etc. in the space of only a few years and then his best friend from West Point, who is aware of his innocence, gets posted to the next canyon over. Well, that’s convenient.

Still from the movie Fort Apache (director John Ford) 1948. I’m worried this movie might have had fewer stereotypes than this book.

Much of the interaction with the various Apache characters raised my hackles. The speeches are the stilted language of John Ford Westerns, with various characters speaking about themselves in the third person (is there no “I” in the Apache language? If there isn’t, can’t it be translated as such since Jim is undoubtedly communicating in Apache anyway?). White people are referred to as “white eyes” and there are some references to the “Great Spirit” although this terminology doesn’t appear to be part of the Apache religious tradition, but rather a phrase indigenous to the Lakota and Algonquin Indian religions. No reference is made to the matrilineal organization of Apache culture, or to anything that would give dimension to the lives of tribal members, like their oral history/mythology, their knowledge of pottery creation or sandpainting, or any actual religious tradition.

And all it takes is a few hot glances between Indy and “Shatto” and then they are kissing with her declaring her love for him with no real exchange between them. He rescues her a few times from a bad burn and a fainting spell, but I swear to you they don’t exchange more than thirty words before she tells him she loves him. You do, Indy? Yet toward the end of the novel, Jim refers to one of their “long talks”. What long talks? The romance between them is totally improbable, even with the arrival of the comissioner who has come to investigate the incompetence of Indy’s father saying that he’ll take on Jim’s case and get a pardon for him.

Even hot saloon girl Angela Lansbury in The Harvey Girls had standards. I don’t think she would have fondled little Shatto.

What really set off my creep-o-meter was how Jim had no problem getting all riled up staring at Indy through her bedroom window after she was unwell (stalker, much?) and then he heads off with her slutty, former saloon girl friend Prudence to make out and have her fondle him. They totally would have had sex if Prudence hadn’t mentioned Indy’s name, which I guess reminded Jim that he supposedly had feelings for her and caused him to change his mind. Thank heavens Prudence is chatty, otherwise Jim would have been putting his little Shatto inside of Prudence pretty damn fast, and I’m guessing he didn’t have access to mid-nineteenth century condoms. Sorry, but I can’t get behind this kind of cheating. And Indy wouldn’t have even known about it unless Prudence had said something, spinning the incident as proof of Jim’s feeling for Indy.

There is a bizarre paranormal element never gets explained – Jim is able to “take the wind” from his enemies which means he absorbs their “power” when he kills them and this is illustrated when the local enemy chief of a rival Apache band attempts to kidnap Indy after her and Jim’s first major make-out session and Jim kills three of the four warriors who attacked them. He is surrounded by an unexplained wind and then tells the surviving warrior, the son of the chief, to beware because he has absorbed his wind. There’s wind here all right, I’m just not sure it necessarily has that much power. And this is what makes him a great warrior, rather than practice, practice, practice?

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. The ending was horrendous. Indy’s paranoid two-dimensional villain of a father gets it into his pea brain that his career would have a boost if he captured the famous Apache warrior Cochise and heads out to engage him soon after Indy helps Jim and his captain friend escape the unlawful torturing and imprisonment her father has imposed upon them. They return with the surviving soldiers to say that Indy’s father died (just like that? He was the major villain!) and there was never any mention when she’s jailbreaking them that they were just going to head out and join the Cochise fight.

It’s the very end that clinched my intense dislike of the book and the character of Jim. It takes about a month to get all the documentation to clear him of his former charges, but the epilogue’s idea of a happily ever after is to show how great everything is by mentioning how Jim is reinstated in the army and – great news! – is instrumental in setting up the garrison at Fort Apache and the reservation surrounding it. WTF? Wow, I bet his Apache friends will be thrilled at him helping out with the freakin’ reservation that will help deny them freedom. That sounds great. And it is this work on his part which supposedly explains how the wind would whisper to him “peacemaker”. Did it also whisper “asshole”? Because that’s what I heard from the wind.

Sexy Texans and a Close-Knit Irish Family in C. H. Admirand’s The Secret Life of Cowboys Series

11 Jun

Tyler (The Secret Life of Cowboys #1) by C. H. Admirand (Sourcebooks, March 1, 2011)

Despite being a born and bred Easterner, I’ll happily admit to enjoying a good Western romance. The small town atmosphere that usually accompanies these books is always a pleasure and a real cowboy, one with a sense of honor and a direct approach to getting his woman, fits my romantic ideal to a “T”. That’s T for Texas, folks, that hot and steamy home of cowboys who can knock your boots off if they kiss you right.

They are like Scotsman but with boots instead of kilts.

I actually read the third book of the series first as a NetGalley review and was so utterly charmed by it that I had to read the first two. I’m so glad I did! The Garahan family is comprised of a hardworking trio of cowboys who are desperate to save the ranch that has been in their family for generations in the middle of Pleasure, Texas. The Circle-G with its feed bill and mortgage payment needs money like a steer needs fresh pasture and the Garahan brothers – Tyler, Dylan and Jesse – can barely make ends meet working dawn until way after dusk.

In the first book, Tyler, when the oldest Garahan brother sees a job listing at the new bar that’s opened up in town, he figures he can make some extra money lugging kegs. He’s startled when the lush figured, no-nonsense redheaded owner, Jolene Langley, asks him to strip. He didn’t realize that this was a strip club and that a real live sexy cowboy is great for business. He begins to think the money isn’t worth it until the second sexy redhead walks out to join her cousin.

Emily Langley might be covered in chocolate after losing a battle with her mixer and some brownie batter, but all Tyler can think is that he wants to lick it off her considerable chest. Those whiskey-colored eyes hold a sweetness that make this bookkeeper warm something deep inside him that none of his ex-girlfriends have touched before. When he realizes that someone is out to stop the Lucky Strike club from succeeding, all his protective instincts are aroused (a long with some other parts of him).

Emily and Jolene are hilarious spitfires who give feisty a capital “F” and the crew at the Lucky Strike are a nice mix of minor characters. The heat between Tyler and Emily is off the charts, with both their scarred hearts taking a chance on one another. The snootypants prisses from the town (who want to change the town’s name from Pleasure to Emerson since it’s less risque) provide a good foil and there is a ton of small town atmosphere, always a hit with romance lovers. We get a good sense of taciturn Dylan and talkative Jesse, and the fact that all three brothers have regular fistfights to blow off steam is an adorable indication of the machismo factor at the ranch.

Dylan (The Secret Life of Cowboys #2) by C. H. Admirand (Sourcebooks, January 1, 2012)

In the second book, Dylan, the quietest of the Garahan brothers agrees to take over for Tyler, who has had a nasty run in with a bull at the end of the previous book. In one of Dylan’s early performances he is asked to lasso a blindfolded brunette celebrating her birthday, but when the blindfold comes off he is astonished to find a glaring pair of emerald eyes. The undertones of vulnerability in those same peepers reel him in for a mind-blowing kiss, but when he asks her to stay and meet him after the show, she gives him sass like he’s never received. Rather than put off, he’s turned on beyond belief.

Ronnie DelVecchio is a transplant from New Jersey. She’s fled an ex-husband who decided to have an affair with her best friend and her heart is more than a little wary. Add to that the DelVecchio curse – that once every other generation a DelVecchio woman loses her heart to a pureblooded Irishman and promptly has twins – and she’s running away fast from Dylan Garahan, despite the pull of those incredible kisses. But running away is slightly complicated by the fact that her friend Emily has arranged for Dylan to help Ronnie put her store back together after the town vandals decimated the interior. The fact that she’s supposed to be paying him by cooking her home-cooked Italian cuisine for the brothers puts her right in arm’s reach of that quiet middle brother who is short on talk but long on action.

Since I’m originally from Northern New Jersey, Ronnie’s character of a hot-tempered, loving Italian who believes firmly in her family’s curse is a fabulous character I immediately loved. After having her heart broken by her philandering husband, it’s easy to understand why she is not ready to leap back into love. Her gut tells her that she is in danger whenever Dylan is around. He might hesitate to talk, but his tender actions and hot loving tells her practically everything she needs to know about the kind of man he is. Dylan gave his heart to his childhood sweetheart only to get hurt when she wiped the dust of town off her feet eight years later and headed off to adventure. But he never felt like this about anyone, and he’s not about to let go of Ronnie. You will love the law that gets invoked at the end of the book!

Jesse (The Secret Life of Cowboys #3) by C. H. Admirand (Sourcebooks, July 1, 2012)

Poor Jesse. We saw his friend Lori break his heart (for the second time) in Dylan, and Jesse now sports a barbed wire tattoo around his arm to symbolize how he isn’t going to let any woman get past it to his heart. Until he stops to help a gorgeous blond with car trouble, that is. One look at Danielle Brockway and her tiny daughter, Lacey, and he falls hard for both of them.

Danielle doesn’t want to jump from the frying pan into the fire. Her rodeo husband left her and their daughter, taking all of Danielle’s hard earned savings while he was at it, and she’s retreated to Pleasure to stay with her loving uncle who owns the town diner. She might be attracted to the hunky youngest Garahan but she’s a mother first and she needs to do what’s best for Lacey.

Little Lacey steals the show. She’s the tiniest cowgirl in pink boots and a matching hat she wears to bed every night, and Jesse being a real cowboy puts her over the moon. Jesse wants Danielle and Lacey at the ranch all the time, but is harboring a secret. He’s taken an outside job to help with the mortgage payment (no, not at the strip club) and is being secretive about it with everyone. Danielle is worried she might have picked another man who is going to put her second, but she’s bolstered by seeing the loving Garahan family in action. Any man who comes from this crew is bound to be a solid citizen.

I might have wanted to shake Jesse a couple times in this book, but he’s likely to be my favorite Garahan so far (fear not, Tyler and Dylan, I still love you both). C. H. Admirand does a great job of showing how brusque cowboys can still be Southern sweet-talkers when they want to be and if the sex they dish out is any indication, there will be hordes of women moving to Texas post-haste. The best part of the book is when the Garahan cousins – the cops from New York and the U. S. Marshals from Colorado come out to join in the town of Pleasure’s annual party. I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed that Admirand isn’t an author who would tease a reader with a bunch of sexy, single male cousins and then not deliver on future books starring them. Don’t disappoint me, Ms. Admirand! :-)

If you feel like a little twang, a wonderful small town, hot lovin’, and some sexy cowboys who find the women who make them sit up and realize what love is, you are more than ready to add The Secret Life of Cowboys series to your reading shelf. Jesse doesn’t come out until July 1st, but you can get started with Tyler and Dylan. But let me warn you. Reading about Texas in the summer is H-O-T, so be sure to have a cold glass of sweet tea nearby to cool yourself down.

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