Always on My Mind by Andrea Downing

Unfortunate circumstances and misunderstandings separate Cooper and Cassie just when they’re on the cusp of admitting their love. Will they ever manage to find their way back to each other?

What’s it About? 

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1972 – Vietnam, the pill, upheaval, hippies. Wyoming rancher Cooper Byrnes, deeply attached to the land and his way of life, surprises everyone when he falls for vagabond hippie Cassie Halliday. Fascinated and baffled, he cannot comprehend his attraction—or say the words she wants to hear.

Cassie finds Coop intriguingly different. As she keeps house for him and warms his bed at night, she admits to herself she loves him but she misinterprets Coop’s inability to express his feelings.

Parted, each continues to think of the other, but how can either of them reach out to say, “You were ‘always on my mind’?”

First Impressions

Typically, one of the most difficult parts of writing any review is the starting point. Where do you want to begin the analysis? How do you want to present the characters? Surprisingly, when it came to this read I encountered a much more difficult dilemma, and that was how to categorize this romance. Primarily, whether or not to tag it as a historical read. The setting of our book is 1972, and I realize a good portion of readers out there probably just gasped at the prospect that I would even contemplate filtering this as a historical read. What can I say? I was born in the last year of the 80’s, anything prior to that seems like history 😉 However, I must say that the question of historical or contemporary also made this one of my favorite aspects of the novel, in that it’s not your typical setting for a romance. If we’re ever presented with a tale of love obviously not set in the present day, we might see a far distant historical, regency, nineteenth century, or prohibition era if we really want to mix things up. But to set something in the early 70’s, and in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on top of it, makes this unique amalgamation of factors completely unexpected and exciting.

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To Be or Not to Be? 

The Vietnam War is raging. The era of the sexual revolution, feminism, and civil rights is well-established. In the midst of all this change, we find a conservative cowboy start to fall for a free-spirited hippie. It’s hard to think of two more unlikely characters in a romance.  While Cooper and Cassie differ in so many ways, from their lifestyles to their political views, it was fascinating to see these two polar opposites manage to push aside their differences to come together into each other’s arms. They’re able to provide a sense of solace and comfort as the rest of the world trespasses around the bubble they’ve built around them. And yet, we see that things aren’t always smooth sailing between them, and eventually their doubts and fears regarding their relationship risk tearing apart these two lovebirds forever.

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I’ll admit, upon first meeting, and for a rather large portion of the time they spent together, I questioned if Cassie and Cooper even liked each other. They obviously come from different backgrounds, and rarely agree on things. More than once Cassie admits to herself that Cooper’s behavior scares her, and yet his ability to turn sweet following an argument keeps her coming back for more. Borderline…mentally abusive in a way. It’s only when she completely misinterprets his commitment to their relationship does she run for the hills. The fact we’re in the period of the early 70’s, when the time of cell phones and emails are nonexistent, do we see it’s practically impossible for Cooper to go after her. We seriously question if they’ll manage to find their happily ever after, and desperately hope they’ll succeed in doing so. There were many times that I wished we could have seen a few more moments of affection and sweetness between Cooper and Cassie, so that I could be convinced these two were meant to be together. However, I could simultaneously appreciate the fact that if we had been presented with more of these moments, Cassie probably never would have doubted Cooper’s affections to flee in the first place.

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

Series: Stand-alone

Final Impressions: The outline of a heart-wrenching romance was definitely there, but I felt some areas could have been fleshed out more fully. Some of the first moments involving Cassie and Cooper’s interactions were somewhat uncomfortable, especially considering how often Cooper resulted to yelling and berating Cassie for the fact she didn’t fit seamlessly into his life. However, I’d have to say that one of the most compelling features of this romance was the fact that we were presented with a love story that was far from perfect. Our characters had flaws, and acted in ways that were often hard to differentiate right from wrong. But that’s what made it real and relatable. The fact our tale was set in the early 70’s, when war raged from afar, birth control was something to be debated/judged, and those who were more conservative clashed with those who were more liberal, we find ourselves confronted with a time that feels simultaneously foreign…yet achingly familiar.

Smut Level: Cassie and Cooper’s first time together in the bedroom actually seemed far from perfect, but practice certainly makes perfect. There’s not too much detail involved in their lovemaking, but we eventually find their awkwardness transform into tenderness.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. The Wild Rose Press, Inc. 252 Pages

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Landing the Lawman by Kadie Scott

Hold onto your Stetsons ladies and gentlemen! We finally get to see the Hill family daughter get a romance story of her very own.

What’s it About? 

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Carter Hill walked away from a perfectly fine life and relationship…all for a career she’s chased since she was fourteen. Years and a PhD later, she loves her job as a water rights consultant. At the same time, now that all her brothers are happily married, she’s lonely and wanting more. But the only man in her life is Logan – super serious, no sense of humor, and friend-zoned. Or is he? Perhaps a sexy, no-strings affair with a man more driven than she is could help her move on.

Logan Cartez doesn’t date, do relationships, or worry about commitment. He’s married to his job – making sure what destroyed his family ranch and their legacy doesn’t happen to others. When Carter propositions him, what began as a passionate and unforgettable night soon develops into more. Logan finds himself doing things he swore he never would, and the feisty, brilliant, blue-eyed rancher’s daughter has him thinking about so much more than work.

First Impressions

This series is an absolute delight! Up until this point we’ve only seen the romances of the Hill family boys, most of whom are sexy as sin alpha cowboys. Well, after four full-length novels featuring the Hill men, we’re finally privy to the one Hill daughter falling in love with a dashing lawyer. It feels like I’ve been waiting for Carter’s story since book one, and I’m thrilled to say it doesn’t disappoint. I might even go so far as to say that Carter and Logan’s romance is my favorite of the series! It’s definitely a tough call to make, but these two draw you in from opening bell and simply don’t let go. The fact we also get to see glimpses of Carter’s protective brothers, not to mention their entertaining wives, who we’ve come to know and love throughout the series is a glorious bonus.

Rebound, or Real Love? 

At the start of the novel we see that Carter and Logan have a professional, yet friendly relationship. She offers water expertise to many of his law cases, and the two have grown to become friends over time. However, even though they’ve always been a bit more than co-workers, they’ve never acted on what they assume to be a one-sided attraction to the other. That all changes though after Carter learns her ex-fiancé, Brian, is engaged, and she thinks going for a roll in someone else’s bed might take her mind off things. When Logan learns that Carter is considering a potential one-night stand with a complete stranger, he sees red, and steps in to act as a source of sexual release.

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What follows is a steamy and amusing romance, with both Logan and Carter constantly debating whether they should upgrade this fling between them to a full-blown relationship. A feature to the evolution of their attraction that I found particularly fascinating was that we never really entertained the idea that Logan was simply a rebound from Carter’s previous relationship with her fiancé. While we can’t deny that her ex becoming engaged was sort of the impetus for them ultimately coming together in the physical sense, we also realize that they’ve always been close, and more importantly that there’s always been something simmering just under the surface between them. They’ve both been daydreaming for more, and in a way her ex’s engagement is the slap in the face they both need to finally act on it.

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The Role of the Ex

Throughout the novel we see a primary focus not only on Logan and Carter’s burgeoning relationship, but also a side story involving a water right’s case the two are working on. It helps highlight the dedication they both have to their respective careers, as well as how their jobs help bring them together. However, another feature of the plot which I found especially intriguing was the role of both Logan and Carter’s exes to their current relationship. When the two first met, Carter was still engaged to her ex, meaning that the foundation for Carter and Logan’s relationship was built as a friendship surrounding their work, rather than one which was romantic in nature.

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As for Logan, his ex-fiancée, Angela, left him because he seemed to pay more attention to his work than he ever did to her. It’s only now that Angela has broken up with somebody else that she starts to sniff around Logan again. We’ve already discussed how the engagement of Carter’s ex was sort of the impetus to them taking their relationship to the next stage from friendship to horizontal mambo partners. We also see how Logan’s previous breakup with his ex makes him hesitant to move things even further along with Carter from having a casual sexual relationship to an actual boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. After all, his work will always be important to him, and he fears that eventually he’ll fail to give Carter the attention that his previous fiancée always demanded of him. And this brings me to what I loved most about Carter and Logan’s connection.

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While they compromise in certain aspects of their relationship, we see that they never really have to give up a part of their lives that means a lot to them, and that would be their careers. Whereas Angela felt pushed aside, we see that Carter and Logan can come together in their work. Whereas Angela pouted and sulked on the sidelines, Carter isn’t afraid to ask for Logan’s attention when it matters most, or force him to take a break and have some fun when he needs it. Simply put, they fit together. They are each other’s person in a way that their exes could never be. Brian was pushing Carter to give up her career in Austin, and Angela complained that Logan’s work resulted in them spending too much time apart. And yet, when it comes to Logan and Carter, they can still have fun and play together, not to mention have sexy fun times together, yet still devote themselves to the careers that really mean a lot to them.

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

Series: Hills of Texas, book 5. Quite possibly my favorite couple of the whole series.

Final Impressions: A delightfully romantic, funny, and also emotional read from start to finish. Carter’s parents sort of serve as the guiding light of wisdom in their relationship, and her father especially may have given the most enlightening advice of any romance character ever when Carter and Logan found themselves on the verge of breaking up after an argument. “Don’t assign blame…Rarely is it one person’s fault. Usually, it’s a little bit of both.” It might seem like simple advice, but my goodness when it comes to Romancelandia I feel like this needs to be cross-stitched into a pillow! I realize we’re all out of Hill children to feature, but I sincerely hope this series continues, maybe with a time jump into the future so we can focus on all of their children finding love!

Smut Level: This read is a perfect blend of clean with a bit of steam. While some scenes can get a bit descriptive and passionate, we also see several scenes end with a quick fade to black, or others where we come in after the good stuff has already taken place. I must say the only time this disappointed me was when we missed the details of Carter and Logan having phone sex! Would have loved to hear Mr. Proper Lawyer utilizing his dirty talking skills.

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

Jake’s Redemption by Jamie Schulz

In this futuristic world, women are no longer considered the weaker sex, and have come to control society. Yasssss!! They’ve also enslaved all men, and even sell them at Auction as breeders to be used and abused. Dammit ladies, we’re better than this!!! 😦

What’s it About? 

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Chained and enslaved, Jake Nichols is convinced he’ll die alone. In this new order where men are stripped of all power, he endures brutal torture at the hands of his female captor. But when he’s hired out to build a ranch home for an outspoken beauty, his dreams of escape transform into visions of passion.

Monica Avery struggles to fill her heart in a loveless society. With marriage outlawed and romantic partners reduced to pawns, she’s given up hope of finding her soul mate. But watching the rugged rancher hard at work on her shelter awakens deeply buried desires.

As the project comes together, Monica discovers a kindred spirit in the tenderhearted Jake. But despite their growing attraction, he still belongs to a cruel woman who’d rather see him dead than free. Can Monica save Jake, or will their love lead to a tragic tomorrow?

First Impressions

This is definitely a unique world we’ve been thrown into, as it is both futuristic in concept, yet rudimentary in execution. A series of wars and…genetic mutations(?) have resulted in womankind becoming the dominant force in society, with the ability to overpower men with their superior strength that kicks in when threatened. These various wars have depleted the men of this world, and they have since become the slaves and playthings of women. They are objects to be sold at auction, and there seem to be no repercussions or punishment for women who abuse their slaves to the point of death. As a result of these wars, women may have come to the ultimate position of power, but they rule over a land that has seemingly been thrown back in time, with rolling blackouts of electricity, the necessity for horses as a means of transportation, and the fond memory of telephones as a way to communicate with others. It’s a stark juxtaposition of modernity vs. stagnation.

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While the premise of the story was certainly intriguing, I felt like we only scratched the surface of these wars which plagued the entire world. For a series prequel, I would have liked to see more attention focused on the details of these wars, and the fallout which resulted in such a drastic alteration to society as we know it. There were many times throughout the book where I couldn’t help but think, “how did we ever get to this point?!” I almost wonder if a more appropriate use of this prequel would have been to set the story years earlier in the midst of the wars so we could see how everything came together for our women, yet simultaneously fell apart for our men. In a way, I sort of wanted to see a prequel for our prequel!

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From Slave to Partner

Jake is in Hell. He’s the slave of a sadistic, tortuous woman who seems determined to break his will to live. Salvation comes when he is loaned out for a time to a neighboring farm to help with the construction of a ranch house for it’s beautiful owner. Monica is seemingly the opposite of every other woman he’s come across in this world. She treats her slaves with respect, and vows she would never force them to do anything they weren’t comfortable with. The truly heartbreaking feature of this story is that Jake has the hardest time seeing this reprieve for what it is. When he first arrives at Monica’s farm, he’s constantly suspicious of her motives, and wondering when she’ll finally let her true colors shine as a demanding Mistress. He simply can’t trust her, because his hellish owner “tortured all the trust” out of him.

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Although Jake has difficulty trusting Monica in the beginning, he can’t deny his body’s attraction to her, and she too desires him in a way that feels different than all the men who have come before. When Jake rejects her initial advances, she is quick to assume that he’s being overly gruff. However, she eventually realizes that he has suffered immense physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his owner. This torture is deeply embedded in his psyche, to the point where Monica’s intimate touch causes him to experience distressing flashbacks which fully incapacitate him. It is only after many open and honest discussions, not to mention time, that Jake is able to overcome the mental torment of his past abuse and rape that he can learn to enjoy Monica’s affection. The only problem with the fact that Jake and Monica have established a deep emotional connection is that the time is soon approaching when he must go back to the hell he was merely on a break from.

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

Series: Angel Eye Series, prequel. This book definitely pulls you in to the point where you immediately want to pick up the next book.

Final Impressions: In terms of the purpose of a prequel to set the tone and background for the series, I’m not sure it was used to it’s fullest potential, especially when you consider the length. It’s a rather hefty read at 425 pages, and when all was said and done I still felt some confusion about the foundation of this world which has been ravaged by such unconventional wars. The bulk of the story involves Jake and Monica stuck in a cat and mouse game where they seemingly take two steps back for every step forward in their relationship. In addition, there were several key aspects of the plot which were left unfinished so that they can undoubtedly come back into play in the next novel. Ultimately it seemed we were left with more questions than answers, and the flow of the story probably could have benefited from about 50-75 fewer pages.

Smut Level: It takes quite a bit of time before Jake can push his past trauma aside so that he can fully connect with Monica on a physical level. This means that more of the story involved the development of their emotional relationship rather than a physical one.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 425 Pages.

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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.

Meant to be Different by Amelia Foster

Another home run! Amelia Foster once again succeeds in hitting it out of the park in her sequel of the “Meant to Be” series, Meant to be Different. 

What’s it About?

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Young Wyatt Carlisle fell in love with the rodeo and it became his dream career. It was also the decision that would one day cost him his high school sweetheart. But when thirty rolls around he decides to give his battered body a break, he retires with two goals in mind: open a training facility in his hometown and win back his Gigi.

Teenage Georgia Marsh is not only faced with watching her mother fade from terminal cancer, but also a relocation to North Carolina. It’s only made worse when the one person not scared by her goth girl persona is a rhinestone cowboy with more swagger than brain cells. In a turn of events she never thought possible, Wyatt becomes her first love and a rock through the heartbreak of losing her mother. Only to shatter her months later when he chooses his career and disappears from her world.

After a twelve year separation, Wyatt saunters back into Georgia’s life. Forced to work together on a project for her boss, and one of Wyatt’s sponsors, their sexual chemistry quickly ignites, but Georgia is determined not to fall for Wyatt’s charm a second time around. Especially when she suspects that watching the cowboy ride off into the sunset for a second time might be more than she can handle.

First Impressions

What can I say about this series other than that you should read it? Amelia Foster is a master storyteller who allows us a glimpse into teen love, second chances, and even emotional heartbreak. This sequel in the “Meant to Be” series holds up just as strongly to the premier novel, which is really saying something considering that was also a beautiful roller-coaster of a read that gave me all the feels. Something I’ve appreciated with this series so far is that while we see a continuation of certain themes, such as the brilliant use of flashbacks and alternating points of view between the lead characters, each novel really is distinct.

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It never felt as though this second book was merely a repeat of the one which came before it. Wyatt and Gigi’s story is unique to them in a way that sets them apart from the couple of the first novel, even though that one featured Wyatt’s older brother. It feels as though we are once again witnessing a true romance play out between two very real people that we’ve come to know intimately through the author’s words. Wyatt and Gigi demonstrate that their teenage love which ended 12 years ago may not be entirely over, but simply paused. This rhinestone cowboy may have just found a second chance at love with his dark angel.

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A Journey to the Past

While the consistent use of flashbacks might not have been as mind-blowingly spectacular as their use in book one, they still served a very important and alluring purpose of highlighting the foundation of Wyatt and Gigi’s relationship all those years ago. They seemed like polar opposites when they first met in high school. She was the new goth girl in town, and he was the popular wannabe rodeo stud that all the girls drooled over. Somehow this rhinestone cowboy is able to draw this dark angel out of her shell, and they find love together. But this story is more than just a simple teenage romance. We discover that Gigi’s surly attitude at moving to this small North Carolina town is born of the fact that her mother is in the last stages of cancer, and it’s just a matter of time before she’s gone from this world.

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Heavy stuff, I know. The beauty though of her relationship with Wyatt is that he manages to pull her out of the constant limbo she’s experiencing at home, bouncing constantly between life and the imminent arrival of her mother’s death, to find an escape where she can simply be herself. To find a few days a week where she doesn’t have to be constantly worrying about her mother’s illness, or how her dad is struggling with losing the love of his life. What started as a simple dalliance to take her mind off the harsh realities of life soon turns into an example of true love. Wyatt stands by Gigi in everything, and she too supports him through some of his own life’s struggles. They might experience a few bumps in the road, just like with any new relationship, but they soon discover the key to their love is always being open with each other when life tries to get in the way. Wyatt especially acknowledges that the depth of their love isn’t like every other typical teenage romance. It’s real. They’ll make it through anything life throws at them, and they’ll be together past their teenage years, because their love is meant to be different. Or is it?

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The Hope for Second Chances

We know pretty much from the opening page, actually from the synopsis itself, that Wyatt left Gigi behind all those years ago to pursue his dreams of becoming a rodeo star bull rider. It seems that in spite of all their vows that their love was “meant to be different”, it seems to have succumbed to defeat just like any other teenage romance. Throughout the novel we see a constant switch back and forth of Wyatt trying to win Gigi back in the present, while simultaneously seeing how their love played out in the past. As we see how deep of a connection these two had when they were young, we see that their teenage romance in fact wasn’t merely just a passing fancy. They meant everything to each other. So where did it all go wrong, and more importantly, will Wyatt be able to convince Gigi that he’s worth a second chance? When they first met he had to fight for her to see how good they could be together, and all these years later he’s going through that same fight of trying to win her trust.

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Something that really did surprise me as we saw the love between Wyatt and Gigi play out in both the past and the present, was that we never witnessed that one key moment where Wyatt decided to leave. We hear his explanation to Gigi when they reconnect, but we never actually get a flashback scene where we see him drive off into the sunset. I was kind of confused at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the purpose of these flashbacks was not to build up to the point where he left. Instead, it was to show the development of their love up until that point. To demonstrate how Wyatt was there for Gigi through every hardship, including standing as a pillar when her mother eventually died. He also succeeded in showing her that life was still worth living amidst such pain. His decision to leave was not out of selfishness. As we uncover his reasoning behind the decision we realize it may have been the most selfless decision of his life. What mattered most was not that we saw how or when he left, but rather that he came back. The author manages to convince us through these flashbacks that Wyatt is in fact worthy of a second chance in the present, and we can only hold our breath in anticipation that Gigi remembers why their love is worth fighting for.

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

Series: Meant to Be, book 2. I love, love, love this series, and you can bet your Stetson I’ll be continuing on to see what might be in store for the other Carlisle brothers going forward.

Final Impressions: I pretty much finished this book in two sittings. It made me laugh, sigh, and definitely brought tears to my eyes a time or two. It’s an emotional read for sure, and seeing Gigi and Wyatt’s love play out as teenagers was particularly heartbreaking because you knew going into it that eventually it would end. But then to see them pick things up again in the present, you’re hopeful that all these years later they’ll manage to find the happiness which escaped them back then. As their story played out, I was drawn so much into their world that it started to feel like I was reading about two people I actually knew. When it was over I even wanted to pick up my phone to call Gigi and dish about how Wyatt is such a dreamboat. A girl can dream!

Smut Level: When it comes to the bedroom, Gigi demands one simple thing of her cowboy lover. Clothes off…cowboy hat on. 😉

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Limitless Publishing, LLC. 227 Pages.

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Desert Rose by J. Arlene Culiner

A woman who lives for the moment. Who enjoys her own company. A woman who acknowledges that long-term relationships can eventually turn flat with a lack of excitement. Is…is this my doppleganger?!?

What’s it About? 

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A secret life is the best protection against love…Men love Rose Badger, and if the other inhabitants of dead-end Blake’s Folly, Nevada, don’t approve, she couldn’t care less. With a disastrous marriage far behind her, settling down is the last thing she intends to do. Isn’t life for fun? Doesn’t a stable relationship always mean predictability and boredom? Well… perhaps things might be different with Jonah Livingstone, but he is off limits for anything other than friendship. Even though he’s started a slow burning fire inside her, he’s still entangled in a complicated past relationship. And Rose has another secret life—one that she’ll never give up for any man.

The last person geologist Jonah Livingstone expected to meet in a semi-ghost town is Rose Badger. She’s easy-going, delightfully spontaneous, and Jonah is certain their attraction is mutual. But Rose is always surrounded by a crowd of admirers and doesn’t seem inclined to choose a favorite. Though Jonah has also suffered a failed marriage, he can’t help being drawn to Rose—and he dares to hope she may feel the same for him. But is Jonah too independent to settle into a permanent relationship again? He’s leading his own very private life, as well…and secrets are an excellent protection against love. Will he do what it takes to hold on to his DESERT ROSE?

First Impressions

Rose and Jonah come from very different backgrounds. He’s a university professor who’s benefited from education all his life. She’s a high school drop out who now owns a second-hand clothing store, and her family has a history of prostitution and alcoholism. In spite of their different backgrounds, they’re still able to connect over those shared interests which can bring a couple together. For the case of Rose and Jonah, it’s the love of music. Russian music to be exact. Different time periods, sure, but it’s still an interest that they can discuss, and even learn more about from each other. As they spend more time together we also see a rise in their own insecurities. For Jonah, he sees himself as one of many admirers who always seem to be following Rose around like a lost puppy. Everywhere she goes in Blake’s Folly, she’s surrounded by men hoping to spend time with her, and he worries that she just seems him as another one of the crowd. Perhaps he’s too plain and boring with his love of fossils to stand out among the other lads vying for her attention.

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As for Rose, I even feel like the big reveal of her past demonstrated that she put more weight and judgement behind it than Jonah, or even we as the audience did. Whenever she would talk about the sordid past of her brothel-working grandmother, or not knowing the identity of her father, and her mother being a lowly drunk I thought…so what? Rose is still an awesome person who seems like she’d be a hoot to be around. The somewhat troubled pasts of her family members, and even her own difficult past as a musician in the big city, may have molded her into the person she is today, but they by no means negatively impacted her personality. They made her strong, caring, and even proud of certain aspects of her background. She managed to find a positive light in some of the darkness of her family’s past. Her love of Russian folk music in particular turns out to be not only a big part of who she is today, but also binds her to the future love of her life.

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Standing Out From the Crowd

Even though Jonah feared that he would simply get lost in the wave of admirers surrounding Rose in her every day life, he actually manages to do something which sets him apart from all the rest. He asks Rose questions. He quickly recognizes that she always tries to turn the focus of a conversation away from herself, and he doesn’t fall for this standard ploy of hiding from others. Instead, Jonah succeeds in getting her to open up about herself, and in those moments is able to demonstrate his total selflessness, as well his definite interest in getting to know as much about Rose as possible. It also makes Rose feel vulnerable. Keeping secrets has always given Rose an air of mystery that has drawn men to her, and she now worries that because Jonah has seen every part of her he’ll either tire of her and move on, or not like what he sees lying behind the walls she’s erected around herself.

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Secret, Secrets Are No Fun

In the beginning, secrets are a dominant feature of Jonah and Rose’s relationship. Not only does Rose not want to share the details of her family history, but she’s also keeping secret something which she doesn’t even deign to share with her fellow citizens of Blake’s Folly. Now don’t worry, it’s nothing illegal or exceedingly shocking, it’s actually the details of her musical past and present, including the fact she sings every Saturday for a Russian cultural club in the city.

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As far as the secrecy of Jonah’s life, this has more to do with a misunderstanding, and possibly even a misleading situation. The whole impetus behind Rose and Jonah’s first meeting was that he stopped into her shop to buy a necklace for another woman. Jewelry…for another woman…who isn’t his mother? This doesn’t look too good, does it? While he openly admits it’s a gift for a woman he’s living with, he remains pretty tight-lipped about the identity of this woman, and Rose has no choice really but to assume it’s someone that Jonah is romantically involved with. This designates the beginning of their relationship as one bound to the “friend-zone”. While Rose might love to flirt with other men, she’s not one to pursue a man already in a relationship, so she tries to limit their interactions to ones that “friends” would do. By Rose acting more reserved around Jonah, he in turn assumes that she’s not into him as much as he is into her. Eventually they have a heart-to-heart about the true identity and background situation of the woman living with Jonah, and it’s a rather interesting turn of events.

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Jonah openly admits that he didn’t make things as clear as he should have about the identity of this woman, and that he is to blame for the misunderstanding. However, he also scolds Rose slightly for essentially thinking the worst of him. At this point in the book, they have developed a pretty strong friendship. While they won’t admit the deeper stirrings of affection which are bubbling between them, they can’t deny they’ve grown close and have certainly come to care for each other. This is why Jonah can’t help but be slightly hurt over the fact that Rose’s first assumption would be that he’s just a typical cheater. I certainly understand his view on this, but you also can’t help but understand Rose’s misunderstanding on the whole situation.

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If they had been friends for a while, and then Jonah were to admit his living with another woman, I could probably sympathize more with his frustration over Rose thinking he was cheating. However, seeing as this misunderstanding was bred from their very first meeting, and he made multiple mentions of this woman throughout their time together without clarifying who she was, I don’t think we can necessarily fault Rose for holding onto this initial misunderstanding. After all, she didn’t know anything about his nature at that point to be able to determine for sure if her assumption was true or false. If she had this idea during their first meeting, we can see how this misconception could balloon up bigger and bigger as they spent more time together, and Rose herself felt more remorseful as her feelings for Jonah continued to grow. I think it’s one part of their story that didn’t necessarily have a right or wrong answer as to how it was handled.

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

Series: Stand-Alone

Final Impressions: The relationship between Jonah and Rose felt “real”. Some of the misunderstandings and circumstances surrounding their time together may have been somewhat dramatized, but I enjoyed that the emotions they evoked felt natural. These were two people who had a friendship which developed into something more intimate. They were attentive in learning about the hobbies and interests of the other person, just as anyone would do in a real relationship outside of the romance novel world. I do wish this book had been slightly longer, as I think it would have been interesting to focus more attention on Rose’s various admirers, as well as her relationship with her mother. There probably could have been some features with more depth and exploration which went beyond Rose and Jonah constantly questioning whether or not the other person liked them as much as they did, but overall I’d say it was a good read.

Smut Level: Only one love scene, but it definitely has some heat to it! It certainly packs a punch in spite of how quick it was.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Fire Star Press. 152 Pages.

Cupid Comes to the Lonesome Buzzard Ranch by Hebby Roman

Who would have thought that a weekend which starts off as such a disaster could so quickly transform into one of romance, and dare I say even love!

What’s it About? 

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Les Springer, a widowed rancher, hasn’t stopped grieving for his wife. When three of his friends cook up a Valentine’s Day weekend at his B&B, chaos ensues. The three cowboys go to an online dating site to find matches. The only problem is, no one ends up with who they pick…almost. Jackson Coleridge, Les’ best buddy, kisses the wrong woman at the wrong time…in front of the wrong woman. Jiggs Davis, Les’ ranch foreman, gets drafted at the last minute to squire one of the matched ladies…but she’s no lady. Jayce Fulton, Les’ rodeo champion friend, tries to corral the lady no one wants…until she turns on him.

Harper Lewis, a social media guru, is divorced and thinks she’s looking for a husband…until she realizes she wants more. Can the cowboy she’s chosen meet her expectations? Lillian Mayfield, a widowed accountant turned florist, comes across as stiff and formal and still…grieving. Is she ready to open her heart and discover a new love? Cheyenne MacPherson, part Navajo and a sculptor, is dedicated to her work and feels the weekend is…one big mistake. Can a handsome cowboy change her mind? Eva González, Les’ widowed cook and housekeeper, misses her children and longs for a sense of…family. Is she ready to start a new family with the man she loves?

First Impressions

I just loved the premise of this romance with how every person was meant to be paired with someone else. Each couple really has their distinct personalities and characteristics which make their particular relationship unique from those around them. Although, I will say it definitely didn’t help that 3 of the 4 male leads had names that started with a “J”. Made it a bit tricky in the beginning to remember who exactly we were dealing with! After a while we get to know them all fairly well, and I appreciated the balance in how each couple received the appropriate amount of attention they deserved. You also can’t help but love the fact that these are handkerchief men! There are a few moments throughout the story where a few of our leading lads seem to whip out a handkerchief at just the right moment. Now, if that’s not the sign of a gentleman, then I just don’t know what is!

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“Never, at any crisis of your life, have I known you to have a handkerchief.”

Online Dating Run Amuck

While I definitely enjoyed the haphazard way each couple eventually found their suitable partner, I sort of wish the impetus for what brought all these characters together was slightly different. This is one hell of a blind date when you think about! Some of these women are traveling rather lengthy distances for this romantic weekend, and the idea of four women who don’t know each other traveling to a B&B with a name out of a horror film to meet with four for men they’ve never met before…well it actually kind of sounds like the start of a horror film!

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I think the one change I would have liked above everything else was if these women could have known each other and been friends before coming to the ranch. As a single woman, I don’t know if I’d travel such a long distance to go to a somewhat solitary cabin to meet with men who have seemingly put the call out for four women to come meet them for skiing and bridge over Valentine’s Day. But…then again maybe that’s why I’m single. Maybe instead if this had just been a group of girlfriends who decided to get away for a fun weekend of skiing, and then just happened to be swept away by the men on this ranch/B&B it may have felt slightly more realistic.

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Speed Dating

We definitely have several whirlwind romances taking place over this one Valentine’s weekend! There were a few moments throughout the book where you can’t help but question if our couples are moving too quickly in their search of love. The fact that these characters spend approximately four days together, and by the end some are openly declaring their love makes you wonder if these couples will still be together a month from now, let alone a year. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn’t as bothered by these expeditious tales of love as I probably would have been if we’d been dealing with couples in their mid-twenties.

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Practically all of these couples are in their 40s or 50s, and most have found love before. They know what it feels like to fall in love, and they can recognize when someone is special. For most of the people presented here they quickly acknowledge that what they feel for the person in front of them is something strong and unique. In some cases it’s reminiscent of what they felt for a past love, and in others it’s something stronger than anything they’ve felt before. Now granted, not everyone is ready to walk down the aisle by the end of the weekend. Some just seem willing to see where this new relationship will lead, whereas others are willing to make big moves and changes in their lives. Again, it was nice to see that not everyone fit into the same mold.

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My Favorite Couple?

There are a number of cute couples to enjoy here, but if I had to choose my favorite it would probably be Les and Lilly.  They are clearly drawn to each other, yet both find themselves pretty consistently referencing their deceased spouses. The romance which develops between them might not be the steamiest, or one which receives the most attention when all was said and done. That being said, I think the message which was shared from their romance was my favorite of the bunch. Seeing as all of these couples are older than your typical romance novel lead characters, it’s not just the fact they’re in their 50s that makes their romance unique. Nor is it the fact that both have been married before, and are just now taking the chance to open up their hearts again to someone new. Rather, the aspect of their relationship which I found the most compelling was that in those moments where they couldn’t help but reference a memory from their late-spouse, the other person encouraged them to discuss it.

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Neither was made to feel guilty for bringing up their beloved on several occasions, and they were never pressured to “move on”. Both of these characters could understand the difficulty of losing the love of your life, as well as the undeniable fact that some scenarios they encounter or places they’ll go will undoubtedly remind them of their wife or husband. While many people would view this constant remembrance of a previous loved one as an annoying or troubling characteristic, for Lilly she actually saw it as a representation of how devoted Les could feel for another person. It was something to be celebrated. You can tell that Les feels a slight sense of embarrassment over the fact that he brings up his late wife on several occasions, but instead of reprimanding him for it, Lilly actually encourages him to share the memories of his wife. He also does the same when it comes to the few times Lilly is reminded of her deceased husband, Doug. Both can acknowledge that they were in love with these people, and even though they’re gone, their memories live on. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or try to hide.

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

Series: Stand-alone. Since finishing I keep going back and forth debating whether or not I would have liked to see each romance broken out into its own novel. It would have allowed us to get to know each couple on a deeper level, but I also don’t know if the premise of how they came together could have held up if we had four individual books. Maybe another 100 pages would have been great!

Final Impressions: Could there have been maybe one less couple involved? Mayyyybe. I did enjoy how different each couple was, but at times it almost seemed like we may have been dealing with too much back and forth between our various characters. Especially considering we’re dealing with under 250 pages, to have four distinct couples was definitely a lot. I also found it a bit hard to get behind the premise of four solo females agreeing to travel to an oddly named B&B to meet four men they’ve never met over Valentine’s Day weekend to possibly find romance. That being said, we do have plenty of cute stories at work here, and you come to appreciate their struggles, their hesitancies, but also their undeniable connections.

Smut Level: Some of the relationships have some heat to their stories. These folks may have just met, but that doesn’t prevent some from getting a bit…handsy…at the dinner table 😉 Nothing overly detailed or outrageous though!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $0.99 Kindle Price. Estrella Publishing. 224 Pages