Against the Odds by Michele Solano

There’s only a handful of romance novels that make me want to give up city living and move out West to the quiet peace and seclusion of a Wyoming ranch. This is definitely one of those romances.

What’s it About? 

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Jace Nichols is the kind of cowboy every woman wants. He’s sexy, he’s strong, and he knows how to treat a woman to a good time. However, just like a wild stallion who cannot be tamed, Jace makes it a point to keep women at arm’s length, only offering casual dating, and never commits. He gave his heart out only once in his life, and that heartbreak had him promising himself he’d never risk that again. So now his life consists of hard work, time with the Michaels’ clan, and enjoying as many women as he wants without any risk, which suits him just fine. That is, until Scarlet James walks back into his life.

Scarlet James grew up a stone’s throw from Michaels Mob and loved everything about country life. She loved horses, she loved drawing, and she loved Jace Nichols. And when a devastating accident turned her world upside down and ripped her away from everything she knew and loved, including Jace, she never thought she’d set foot on the Mob again. But with her world being turned upside down with an impending divorce and a child to support, she returns to the Mob with the hopes of starting her life over, once again.

Heartbreak returns, secrets are revealed, and first loves reunite in this story of family, love and loss. Can Jace allow the one woman who broke his heart back on the Mob in order to start a new life for herself? Can Scarlet reconnect with the family who helped raise her and heal old wounds with Jace in the process? Can they both be in the same place after all this time and face the pain they caused each other all those years ago or are their wounds too deep to heal?

First Impressions

This series is unbelievably dangerous. Why, you might ask? Because the family matriarch, Grandma E., is so freakin’ adept at cooking and baking, every time I picked up this book I couldn’t help but feel the urge to bake either a casserole, or a pie. The fact I was away from home on work travel without easy access to a kitchen for the majority of this read caused me some rather intense mental anguish. Not to mention severe hunger. In this sequel to Have a Little Faith, we see that the entire clan from the first novel is back, but instead we get a different primary focus on Jace Nichols. He might not be a Michaels, but they’ve basically adopted him into their little family.

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He seems perfectly content to work the Mob with his surrogate family, never becoming tied down or committed to just one woman. But when an unexpected blast from his past comes sweeping onto the ranch to design a race track and stables for a new business venture, both he and Scarlet are forced to confront their former teenage love which ended in heartbreak. Throughout it all we see the couple from the first novel act as a shoulder to cry on, or even vent frustrations, but this tale is really all about Jace and Scarlet finding their way back to each other after so many years apart. The question is, will they be able to overcome the hurdles which separated them all those years ago, or will they prove too strong a barrier? Only one way to find out!

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Part One: Reconnecting

This book is essentially divided into two parts. The first focuses on Scarlet and Jace coming together again after she is hired to design a race track on his family’s ranch. The animosity between the two is palpable, and I must say it was quite a bit of fun to see them try to tip-toe around avoiding each other. However, in those inevitable moments when they’d come face to face, the bickering between them inflated the sexual tension to a delectable degree. You simply know it’s a matter of time before the two become reacquainted in the physical sense, and I rather enjoyed the suspense of wondering when it was going to come about. We do actually have to wait a while until roughly the halfway point before they go for a roll in the stable loft. Before that though, we are constantly wondering what it was that broke them up so many years ago when they seemed destined to be together.

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Normally I hate when we’re left in the dark for so long, but I must say the big reveal moment came about naturally and realistically, which was quite refreshing. We first get to see Jace’s take on events, as he relates them to a character from the first book who was so desperate to find out the truth she essentially cornered him and demanded an explanation. Gotta love this woman’s tenacity! And then we get the ultimate climactic moment when Jace and Scarlet finally square off to lay all their cards out on the table, and Scarlet discloses all the tragic details as to why she abandoned him all those years ago. It was an emotionally touching scene, and in that moment you really do feel for the characters.

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My one and only complaint was that more attention was focused on the explanation of what split them up years before, rather than having any real focus on the time that they were together as a couple. Sure, we get a few mentions of how they were inseparable for years, and that they had a secret hideout spot on the ranch to connect, but I think the story really could have benefited from a few flashback scenes wherein we could witness the emotional bond these two shared. If we’d had some of these moments interspersed with their bickering, we could have constantly been questioning how things could have ever gotten so bad for them to seemingly hate each other so much before finally building to the inevitable explanation. It seemed like we lost a bit of what brought them together in the first place to instead focus on what was bringing them back together now.

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Part Two: Dropping the Ex

The second half of the book switches focus rather dramatically, and I’m not exactly sure how, but it is both my favorite and least favorite part of the novel (I know, my mind is a scary and weird place where anything is possible). After the reconciliation between Jace and Scarlet, things remain primarily hunky dory between them, and we switch all of our attention to the nasty divorce proceedings between Scarlet and her hopefully soon-to-be ex-husband, Preston. In the middle of it all we find her son, Nicholas, caught in the cross fires of a bitter custody dispute. One way this part of the novel should be applauded is how we see a dramatic building of suspense where we don’t really know what is going to happen in terms of this custody battle, and what lengths Preston will go to in order to ensure Scarlet regrets the decision to try and make it on her own. He’s not afraid to use his son as a bargaining chip, and I was filled with worry and wonder as to how this final courtroom drama would play out.

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Something that I didn’t quite care for in the midst of all of this though was that for the most part Jace remains in the background as Scarlet tries to resolve this divorce back in Kentucky. He’s still uber supportive through multiple phone calls and FaceTime sessions, but it was kind of a stark juxtaposition to having Jace be such a major part of the first half of the novel, to see him become almost a secondary character in the second part. It’s also kind of an emotional whiplash for the surly and brooding Jace to suddenly transform into a romantic poet. That being said, with Jace remaining back in Wyoming for a portion of this, we do get to see the special connection that Scarlet has with her son, and also see her stand up for herself against her dick of an ex. It was nice to see such a strong female lead not having to lean on her man to solve all her problems for her. It demonstrates this mother-son duo working together as a unit before they can turn all of their attention to moving forward with Jace stoically standing by in their corner.

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*A copy of this novel was provided for an honest review*

Series: Michaels’ Mob, book 2. There are plenty of sexy cowboys to be found on this here Wyoming ranch. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more highlighted in future books.

Final Impressions: This was a delightful continuation of the Michaels’ Mob series, and instead of portraying a newfound romance we get to see one that highlights the tumultuous path of having a second chance at love. I did enjoy the build-up we get at discovering what it was that separated Jace and Scarlet back when they were teens, as well as the growing suspense surrounding Scarlet’s bitter divorce with her ass-hat ex-husband. While the reasons behind their split were emotionally heartbreaking, I do wish that we had seen a few more tender moments behind the initial love story between Jace and Scarlet all those years ago. It was fun to see the entire Michaels clan back in action for this sequel, although I will say at times their familial connection seems almost a bit too perfect! I mean, is my family the only one that tends to argue around the holidays? No? Oh…well, never mind then.

Smut Level: Alright ladies and gents, you sort of have to wait a while before we eventually get to the good stuff, but once we do? Holy crap. We have some nookie in front of a fireplace, in a candlelit bathtub, not to mention some decent bedroom action. Seriously, I might need to find a Wyoming cowboy for myself.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services, LLC. 260 Pages.

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The Cockiest Cowboy to Have Ever Cocked by Jamila Jasper

Well if that title doesn’t catch your attention…then I don’t know what will!

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This should have been easy.
Hide out from my ex in Omaha while helping an old woman on her ranch.
One problem…
Her son Kurt O’Connor.
I should have known better than to get involved.
He’s tall, a pillar of muscle, icy blue eyes… and cocky as h*ll!
He doesn’t just want my body.
He wants all of me.
I must resist.

First Impressions

I first heard about this book in the immediate aftermath of the #cockygate controversy. For those of you romance readers and writers out there who aren’t familiar with the issue, I’d say it’s definitely worth a quick Google search. I think we can also agree that the concept of trademarking the word “cocky” for use in a romance novel title is rather…cray cray. This novel was initially published under the name Cocky Cowboy, but in the wake of #cockygate it received a well-deserved title upgrade to The Cockiest Cowboy to Have Ever Cocked. I must admit I was pretty stoked to support this cause and author. The novel starts off with all of the elements for a great read, including a strong African-American female lead, a mysterious crime on a remote Nebraska ranch, and even a cocky cowboy or two! Unfortunately I can’t say the story completely came together for me, and I was left feeling a bit underwhelmed when all was said and done. Let’s take a closer look at the details!

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An Impeccable Start

This novel starts off with an intriguing story that pulls you in with its suspense and intrigue. It opens on Nicki, a 45-year-old private detective seeking refuge on a ranch in the wide-open plains of Omaha after fleeing her abusive husband back East. However, she’s not just using this ranch as a stepping stone to get her life back on track. There have been some strange goings-on happening at this ranch in the middle of nowhere, including a howling nightly apparition which is subsequently followed by the slaughter of the ranch’s sheep. The ranch owner allows Nicki to stay on her property in the hopes that she’ll be able to help get to the bottom of this mystery.

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Seeing this big city girl adjust to life on a small ranch definitely sparks your interest, and you can’t help but admire this woman for taking such a huge risk in escaping out from under the controlling thumb of her abusive ex-husband. The fact that she also decides to find pleasure for herself by exploring a sexual relationship with Kurt, the eldest son of the ranch owner, makes you root for her all the more to find happiness. As the story progresses you definitely wonder who might be wreaking havoc on such a seemingly innocent family, but we also start to see some missteps when it comes to the execution of the plot.

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A Lackluster Finish

First of all, I couldn’t help but question Nicki’s prowess as a private detective. Considering she’s there to help solve a mystery, I was surprised to find that asking questions of the ranch owner and other witnesses was seemingly never too high on her priority list. When she did manage to ask them a few questions they were mysteriously cryptic in their responses, and they remained continuously closed off and secretive to her inquiries. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t understand why she would bother putting with with this secretive family when she’s there trying to help them. If it were me and they insisted on staying so close-lipped I would’ve just said, “See ya! Hire Scooby-Doo and the gang if you want help uncovering the true identity of this masked culprit. I’m done!”

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While the mystery of the ranch pulls you in at the start, unfortunately this story just continued to lose momentum as the novel progressed. It was sort of like a puzzle that was missing a few pieces to form a complete picture. The motive behind the ranch haunting was kiiiiiiiind of mentioned at the very end, but I feel like we never uncovered all the reasons why the ranch was a target in the first place. There are many other aspects of the story which sort of drop off and questions which are left unanswered. Even the fate of one of our main characters (who gets hit by a car!) is never fully revealed. This book started with us wondering who was terrorizing the ranch, and while we eventually uncover who that person was, in the end I felt like I had even more questions than I did when the novel commenced.

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Series: I kind of wish this was a series, if only to learn what actually went down in this one.

Should you read it? I reaaaaaaally wanted to like this book. It starts off so strong, but unfortunately all of the various plot points kind of fall apart by the end. If I had read this as a first draft I think it would have had a lot of exciting promise, but as a final product it could have used some more time and attention bringing everything together. There were also a number of spelling errors that were kind of distracting. When I purchased this book it was just $2.99 on Amazon, and considering what it stood for in terms of #cockygate I think it was still money well spent even though I can’t say it’s the best cohesive read.

Smut Level: Nicki and Kurt always seem to start things off up against a wall. This quickly progresses to Nicki on her back with Kurt’s head between her legs. Gotta appreciate the convenience that Kurt’s mom and brother always seem to be off “in town” when these seductive moments take place!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.99 Kindle Price. Jamila Jasper Romance. 479 Pages.