Off the Market by Audrey Wick

Opposites attract in this sweet Texas romance that will leave you smiling, and craving BBQ too! Good thing we get some delightful comfort food recipes to try out at the end of the novel.

What’s it About? 

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Quinn LaFayette is in her inaugural year as library special programs director of Last Stand, but when the kickoff performance for the children’s summer program goes terribly wrong, she has to save face as well as her job. She has a surprise advocate in Cole, whom she did her best to ignore in school. Seven years has only made Cole more appealing, but Quinn is determined to resist the sparks that fly between them because they are too different.

Restaurant owner Cole Hutchinson is no bookworm, but thanks to his fast-thinking antics, he ends up saving the day at the library and earning Quinn’s praise in the process. He’s tempted to seek more, but he’s juggling plenty of female attention from gracing the June edition of Modern Texas magazine featuring barbeque. Cole’s not interested in revisiting a woman from his past, but there’s something about Quinn that he can’t quite ignore.

Can Cole prove that opposites really do attract?

First Impressions

“The jock. The bookworm. Opposite interests. Opposite personalities. Opposite means of interacting.” Quinn’s memories of Cole from high school aren’t necessarily negative, but rather of a man who simply ran in different circles. While she could certainly appreciate his charm and good looks, she acknowledged the two would never have anything in common. When their paths cross again years later, Quinn is shocked to see the former jock run to her rescue in her moment of need. As the summer progresses these two former acquaintances grow closer than either ever thought possible, and Quinn discovers that Cole Hutchinson has matured into a caring man who no longer craves the spotlight of fleeting attention.

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Cole too realizes that this woman is making him want things he’s never desired before, and as she starts to share herself and her love of books with him, he admits to himself that Quinn is a woman he can’t let get away. It was enchanting to see these two nurture their feelings for each other, and especially to see how Quinn’s initial surface-level opinions of this man from high school could change so vastly. Something we don’t really explore though is what Cole thought of Quinn back in the day. He’s certainly smitten with this somewhat shy librarian now, but what about back then? Did he see her as a quiet bookworm? Someone cute, but perhaps beyond his league intellectually? Did he even notice her at all? Even though I loved their tale of romance from start to finish, a further exploration of their history could have been an interesting addition!

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Taking a Stand

The first book in this series really highlighted the tense, yet lovable relationship between the Hutchinson brothers, both of whom are fighting to make their family BBQ joint a success. While this sequel certainly continues on with that theme, we also see the town of Last Stand come to the forefront as a character in its own right. The delightful townsfolk gather together to support and protect their own, yet in this second book we also see the flip side of that small town atmosphere in the shape of city council members who are rooting for Quinn to fail. They see the local library as a non-revenue generating entity that isn’t worth sinking money into. As Quinn encounters a few hurdles at the start of the summer with her reading program aimed at the children of Last Stand, we see Cole come to her aid in more ways than one as their feelings for each other start to deepen.

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When Quinn has to make her case in front of city council for their support of her position, you can’t help but feel a hint of Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation, standing up for what’s right in her small town. This of course means we must also encounter a villain in the shape of a city planner whose advances Quinn once rebuked, and therefore he’s out for revenge against her. As the story progresses we see Quinn start to become increasingly concerned about all the obstacles and malice being thrown her way by the city council, and wonders if there will be a place for her much longer in this small Texas town. While our concern for Quinn continues to grow, and we hold our breath in anticipation wondering if she’ll end the summer on a high note, this intriguing story line does sort of fizzle out a bit by the end. There are some questions which aren’t fully answered, and the character who has grown into our villain exits the story rather abruptly. A more fleshed out culmination of these events would have resulted in a smashing success of a read!

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Southern Comfort

If you were to seek out any of my friends and ask them what two things I’m addicted to most in this world they would most likely tell you the following: romance novels and cookbooks. My Kindle has over 1000 romance novel titles, and my bookshelf is literally buckling under the strain of cookbooks featuring practically every cuisine imaginable. Therefore, the fact that this series combines adorable tales of romance with a sampling of comfort food BBQ recipes at the end of each novel means I’m in a swirl of romance-culinary heaven. Check out some of the scrumptious delights this series has provided below!

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Bubba Hutchinson’s Country Biscuits

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The LaFayette Family BBQ Muffins (best thing ever!!)

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Cole Hutchinson’s Corn Casserole

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Wanda Hutchinson’s Peach Cobbler

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

Series: The Texas BBQ Brothers, book 2. There are only two Hutchinson brothers at this barbecue joint, and we’ve seen both of their tales of romance. Can they discover an illegitimate or long-lost brother of some kind so this series doesn’t have to end?!

Final Impressions: This is a cute, fun, quick read that will have you rooting for our main characters on multiple fronts. From Quinn’s struggles making the summer reading program a success, to Cole and his brother seeking to keep their family’s BBQ restaurant a local success story. Interspersed throughout is the natural development of their relationship which is also reminiscent of the romance from book one. These characters feel like your friends, and their affection comes across as completely real. There was the introduction of some contrived drama between Quinn and Cole towards the very end which seemed somewhat unnecessary, and while I was slightly disappointed that the development of our local villain didn’t entirely come full circle, overall it’s a delightful sequel that’s perfect for the beach.

Smut Level: This story is much more focused on Cole and Quinn developing their attraction into affection rather than lust. It’s a sweet read devoid of sex, with a few intimate kisses here and there.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Tule Publishing.

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On the Market by Audrey Wick

She’s a vegetarian. He owns a barbecue joint dedicated to all things meat. They say opposites attract! Let’s put that saying to the test.

What’s it About? 

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Valerie Perry has just inherited her grandmother’s home in Last Stand, Texas, a far cry in the country from her city life as an organic grocery buyer in San Antonio. Her methodical daily routine suits her just fine, so she aims to freshen up the property, sell it, and take her funds back to the city. She’s only got two weeks during her vacation to make this happen. Now is the time to cash in and get out.

The oldest Hutchinson son, who people around town know as “Hutch,” is a third generation local who is poised to take over the family business with his brother, Cole. The barbeque brothers have very different ideas about the future of their restaurant, “The Hut.” Just when he thought his biggest headache was his job, Hutch meets Valerie and both their worlds are upended. He’s drawn to this fish out of water, but Valerie’s time in Last Stand has an expiration date.

Their sweet and saucy styles don’t mix, but can they both find the recipe to a happy future?

First Impressions

This is a sweet romance that will put a smile on your face, and is the perfect beach read. The progression of Valerie and Hutch’s relationship seemed so cute and natural that it almost felt like we were witnessing the romance of two friends rather than two fictional characters. At first they engage in some light verbal sparring after Hutch fells a tree into Valerie’s yard. It’s definitely some good-natured sparring, and never crosses the line into rude or demeaning. Valerie’s “…ability to dish right back what Hutch was serving was a trait he probably wasn’t used to in women”, and this unique feature of her personality draws him in and won’t let go.

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As Hutch attempts to fix her yard after the damage he caused, Valerie sees a sweet side to this barbecue boy, and it doesn’t take long before they both can’t stop thinking about each other. They slowly get to know each other, and open up about personal details of their lives. We never see anything over-the-top sexual, and there are no instances of being pushed up against a wall in a fiery moment of passion. Instead we see delicate kisses in the warm Texas countryside with fireflies flitting about. Soft touches and intimate caresses. We’ve really been provided with a window into the developing relationship between this couple.

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Brotherly Love

The relationship we see between these barbecue brothers was just as interesting as the relationship forming between Valerie and Hutch. They may be brothers, but they’re at odds over the future course of their family’s restaurant. One is steeped in tradition, the other is dedicated to changing with the times. Both have the best interests of their family’s legacy at heart, and yet it causes a rift to form between them in regards to which avenue they should pursue. The combative nature of these two brothers was quite entertaining, and perhaps a bit more focus on them having open and honest conversations about their wishes for the restaurant would have been a delightful addition. We see them have heated arguments, which perhaps highlights the true nature of their relationship rather than one of sweet brotherly affection. Towards the end of the novel they do find a kind of compromise, but just one more scene of them conversing one-on-one in a non-argumentative manner would have been great.

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What is a Home?

One feature that this novel focuses on at length is the question of what is a home. For Valerie, home is merely a place. It’s wherever you hang your hat for any period of time, and while she’s putting the finishing touches on her grandmother’s house she sees herself as biding her time before she can return back “home” to San Antonio. For Hutch, home is much more significant than the four walls that might surround you. It’s about the community that surrounds you. It’s about the people as much as it is about the place, and this small town of Last Stand is and always will be his home. When he discovers how vastly different Valerie’s concept of home is to his own, he questions if their differences might be more serious than simply the hurdle of physical distance which separates Last Stand from San Antonio. Perhaps their values in life pose more of an issue. However, as Valerie starts to transform her grandmother’s home into one of her own, and this small community also starts to envelop her as one of their own, perhaps her values might be changing to a point where she could envision a future in this small Hill Country town.

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

Series: The Texas BBQ Brothers, book 1. I can’t wait to see what’s in store next for Hutch’s brother, Cole!

Final Impressions: This is a quick read that’s ideal for the beach. It never gets too steamy, but instead there’s a sweet side to the natural romance developing between Valerie and Hutch. The community of Last Stand is an integral part of this relationship, and the additional aspect of Hutch and his brother fighting over the future of their family’s business was just as intriguing. Overall it’s a cute read that will leave you hungry for barbecue and sweet tea!

Smut Level: No sex, but we get some pleasant kisses between our vegetarian and our carnivore.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Tule Publishing. 180 Pages.

Taming the Troublemaker by Kadie Scott

“You may always win, Autry Hill, but I never lose.” A woman willing to stand up to ladies-man Autry? Hot damn! 

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Autry Hill may be a cowboy to his boots, but he’s also gained quite the reputation as a charmer and playboy. His parents aren’t sure he’s ready to take the reins of the family’s prosperous Texas ranch, so they set up a challenge: No women or scandal for the next six months and the ranch house he grew up in is his. Easy peasy, Autry thinks. He’s already tired of late nights and romancing, until elementary school teacher Beth Cooper happens to cross his path. Suddenly Autry is losing his heart, his mind, and what’s left of his reputation.

Good girl teacher Beth Cooper is far too practical to fall for Autry Hill, even if she had a crush on him way back when. The man’s been breaking hearts since middle school. But when he becomes her unexpected champion and then they work together to help one of Beth’s troubled students who’s about to lose everything, she sees a different side of Autry – serious, compassionate, determined and dedicated. And that Autry is nearly impossible to resist. Does she need to?

First Impressions

Normally in a romance novel we see how a bet can bring two people together. This one throws a rather unique twist on the whole betting trope in that we see how it actually keeps our two lead characters apart in terms of not having sex. Autry has a bet going with a family member that he won’t get into any sexual shenanigans for the next six months, and lo and behold this bet is actually made with his father. Not a drinking buddy or frat brother, which is another aspect we usually expect to see with this theme. Well, not for this ranching family! Autry needs to prove to his mother and father that he’s worthy of inheriting the family homestead after his parents downsize to a smaller piece of property.

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Aside from his parents and siblings, it’s probably the one thing that Autry is most passionate about in this entire world. He’s always been a bit of a player about town, but for the last few months he’s taken up a personal vendetta to clean up his act a bit. Something which his family and the other townsfolk of this small corner of Texas don’t seem to have noticed. The prospect of spending a few more months without a random woman in his life doesn’t phase Autry in the least. Until a quiet local schoolteacher flips his entire world upside down that is. Now, how could you not be intrigued to give this romance a read?

Staying Out of the Bedroom

For those of you who know me, you’ll know there’s one element I usually like to see in all of my romance reads, and that’s some hanky panky between the lead characters before the halfway point. They say patience is a virtue, and it’s a quality I have never possessed, and most likely never will. I usually hate when a physical connection seems forcibly delayed, so when I learned Autry has this bet going with his father which would prevent him and Beth from doing the horizontal mambo, I was understandably concerned. Lemme tell you, I was shocked the author managed to pull me into this story so fully that I didn’t even notice or care that it was taking a while for Beth and Autry to fall into bed together.

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A big part of that probably had to do with the fact that just because they can’t have sex doesn’t mean they can’t do…other things, and my goodness do they do a LOT! But I still think the main part of this was the fact that I was so drawn in by these characters, their connection, their growth as individuals, that sex was the last thing on my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love a sexual element in a romance, but the emotional connection and passion between these characters was so strong that I don’t think I would have minded at all if we’d gone the entire novel without seeing them have sex at all. Don’t worry though, they do, and it was everything I was hoping it would be! It was still refreshing though to see these two build a relationship that had such a strong foundation that didn’t rely on a physical component.

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Big Brother

The true beauty of this novel lay not in the burgeoning sexual relationship between Autry and Beth, but rather in the familial relationship Beth and the entire Hill family were building with a young lonely boy named Dylan. A troubled foster child who seems closed off from the rest of the world, Beth and Autry are both determined to show him all the love he’s worthy of. Hands down this was my favorite feature of the novel. Dylan’s reluctance to trust others, or show hope in the possibility of someone else willingly choosing to care for him was heartbreaking, yet also the most truthful part of the book. We feel for this boy just as much as Beth and Autry do, and you can’t help but become entranced with the way that we see him open up from his shell to simply have fun as Autry spends more time with him as a positive male influence.

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Striking a perfect balance between the love story in a romance novel, and any additional aspect involving children is often difficult, but this author manages to do it with a steady hand. It adds depth and struggle to the developing relationship between Beth and Autry, yet doesn’t overpower it either. If anything, my only wish would be that Beth was featured a bit more prominently in the scenes which ameliorated the connection with Dylan. It’s clear at the start of the novel that Dylan and Beth have already established a sense of trust with each other, so the book itself focuses more attention on Autry working his way into Dylan’s life. I think just one more scene elaborating on this already defined relationship between Beth and Dylan would have been especially enlightening.

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The Hill Family

Throughout this entire series we have seen how close the Hill family is as a unit, and Autry’s connection with them is just as strong. However, his past “sins” have apparently put a kind of black mark on their opinion of him. They still love him, but it’s clear throughout their conversations with Autry that they seem surprised any time he demonstrates a selfless act. Needless to say, Autry becomes increasingly upset over his family’s seemingly less than positive opinion of him, and it’s a type of underlying animosity which grows and grows throughout the book. Sure, he’s a bit of a flirt, but it’s clear to us as the audience that every action and feeling he’s ever had towards Beth, Dylan, or his family has been filled with nothing but affection and love.

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There was one scene in particular that I feel deserves mention where Autry has seemingly reached the breaking point in listening to his family’s underhanded sarcastic comments about him. He lashes out at his brother, who was surprised Autry wanted to spend more time with Dylan instead of going out drinking. It was such a beautiful and emotional scene you can practically feel the tension emanating off the page. Personally I think it was a kind of defense mechanism, in that his devotion to Dylan was being called into question by those who are supposed to know him best. Autry exclaims in frustration and anger that his family apparently seems to think so little of him, and he’s practically shaking with outrage. He’s a good person with a good heart, and he never thought he’d have to prove that to his family. It’s a quick scene, but for me it’s the one I’ll probably remember the most from this book. It sort of encapsulates Autry’s desire to be known as a good man, and for his past indiscretions to no longer characterize the man he is today.

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

Series: The Hills of Texas, book 3. I didn’t think it was possible, but this series might just be getting better with every new addition we see of a Hill family member. Can’t wait to see what comes next!

Final Impressions: If I had to find one negative of this book it would be that I don’t immediately have book 4 in my hands to start right now! We’ve come to know and love this Hill family, yet I’m surprised that with each new novel in the series we see a slew of different personalities from those we’ve seen in the previous book. Sure, we see some familiar faces from book to book, but it never feels like we’re seeing the same story, or the same people, on repeat. I especially loved the story-line we see here involving Dylan, as it allows us to see a different aspect of how someone can become enveloped into the Hill family. We hold our breath as we question how Beth and Autry’s story might evolve, from their own romance, to whether or not they’ll be able to save Dylan from getting lost in the foster system.

Smut Level: Sure, there might be a no-sex bet in place, but thankfully Autry is willing to push the boundaries as far as what that might include. Some things which aren’t off the table include kissing, licking, sucking, tugging and even a bit of stroking. And they’re on the kitchen table for that matter!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Tule Publishing. 207 Pages.