Review: Blaze of Winter by Elisabeth Barrett

 

Title:  Blaze of Winter

Author: Elisabeth Barrett

Publisher:  Random House

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Winter heats up in this hot new Star Harbor romance, as another sexy Grayson brother, a wickedly handsome writer, plots his happily ever after with a sweet stranger.

Frustrated with her job in Boston, social worker Avery Newbridge welcomes the opportunity to reassess her life when family asks her to help manage the Star Harbor Inn. Trying to figure out her future is overwhelming enough, but she doesn’t count on distraction in the form of one Theo Grayson, the gorgeous, green-eyed author who she knows is trouble from the moment he saunters into the inn.
Not only does he have a talent for writing swashbuckling adventures, but Theo also has a soft spot for big-hearted damsels in distress, especially a woman who’s great at helping everyone—except herself. Avery’s demons challenge him, but for desire this hot, he isn’t backing down. With every kiss and heated whisper Theo promises her his heart . . . if only Avery is willing to open up and accept it.


Review:

I have mixed feelings about Blaze of Fire, and most of them are because I have a love-hate relationship with Theo.  Of all the Grayson brothers, he somehow ended up my least favorite.  I don’t know why, exactly.  Maybe I don’t find bespectacled authors of historical yarns intriguing.  Maybe I’m jealous that he was able to live in a bed and breakfast indefinitely,  never having to worry about making his bed or cleaning the bathroom.  Or maybe it’s because I found him a bit too inconsistent.  For most of the book, he is sweet and mild-mannered, with infinite amounts of patience to support Avery during her moments of insecurity.  But like Clark Kent, once those glasses come off, he changes, but not always for the better.  He could be a smug jerk, and I didn’t feel quite so fond of him then.

I did enjoy the tempo and tone of this story.  Avery is emotionally bruised after finding one of her therapy patients dead from an overdose.  Upset with herself for not realizing that she was being lied to and not able to forgive herself for not being able to keep Mia from harming herself, Avery is hiding out in Star Harbor.  Helping run her aunt’s business while the older woman recovers from her battle with breast cancer, Avery is moving from one day to the next, trying to stay on the fringes of Star Harbor society.  It drives her nuts that everyone in the small community knows everyone else’s business, and she doesn’t like feeling like she’s under a microscope.  She just needs to be left alone so she can come to terms with her feelings of inadequacy, and figure out what to do with the rest of her life.

Theo is struggling, too, but his internal strife is based on his inability to write.  He’s under pressure to complete the next volume in his privateer adventure series, but he’s stuck.   He can’t write a word.  He has no inspiration, and he feels empty.  Leaving his meaningless life in San Francisco behind, he heads back to his childhood home to rediscover his writing roots.  Instead, he discovers Avery, and one glimpse of her vibrantly hued hair has him captivated.  He has discovered his muse, and he’s not going to let her out of his sight.

I liked Theo when he was gently wooing Avery, giving her the emotional support she needed so desperately, but backing away when she needed space.   He taught her how to have fun and take risks, while teaching himself how to open his heart at the same time.  His courtship methods were occasionally questionable, and I didn’t know whether to be amused or appalled as he basically stalked her to her favorite hangout in Boston.  That was a little creepy.  He also showed an epic lapse in judgment that almost destroys his relationship with Avery, and for such a smart guy, I was disappointed with his behavior.  Of course it’s all set up so the good folk of Star Harbor could meddle in his business, but for him to completely disregard everything he knew about Avery and to push back like he did didn’t make sense to me.

The drug runner plot thread had a bigger role in Blaze of Winter than in the previous book in the series, and I am assuming it will be played up even more in Val and Cole’s books.  They are my favorite characters, but they didn’t get much page time here, only serving as backup for Theo.  I was a little disappointed that they didn’t get to play a bigger part in the story, but that just gives me something to look forward to in the future when they get their own 200 pages.  Bring those on! 

Blaze of Winter is a quick read with a (mostly) sweet hero who occasionally displays a lack of common sense.  Avery is an emotionally wounded heroine who needs a lot of handholding to get through the train wreck in her past that has her questioning every decision she makes.  It was gratifying to see her finally set her fear aside and embrace the love Theo, and her own family, were desperate to give her. 

Grade:  B/B-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Cowboy Takes a Bride by Lori Wilde

 

Title: The Cowboy Takes a Bride

Author: Lori Wilde

Publisher: Avon

ISBN: 978-0062047755

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Ex-champion bull rider-turned-cutting-horse cowboy Joe Daniels isn’t quite sure how he ended up sleeping in a horse trough wearing nothing but his Stetson and cowboy boots. But now he’s wide-awake, and a citified woman is glaring down at him. His goal? Get rid of her ASAP. The obstacle? Fighting the attraction he feels toward the blond-haired filly with the big, vulnerable eyes.

When out-of-work wedding planner Mariah Callahan learns that her estranged father has left her a rundown ranch in Jubilee, she has no choice but to accept it. Her goal? Redeem her career by planning local weddings. The obstacle? One emotionally wounded, hard-living cowboy who stirs her guilt, her heartstrings, and her long-burned cowgirl roots . . .,

Review:

Spring is in the air (actually, it is more like summer, with unseasonal highs in the 80s), so I have been reading a ton of romance.  I had very good luck with Entangled Publishing’s Indulgence line, which was helmed, briefly, by Lori Wilde.  After she was offered a contract with HarperCollins, she stepped down to devote her time and energy to writing.  When The Cowboy Takes a Bride, the first of her Jubilee, Texas series, hit store shelves, I couldn’t resist snapping it up.  I love cowboys and horses, so this book had my name written all over it.   I had a mixed reading experience, partly because I do love horses, though.

Mariah Callahan is an down on her luck unemployed wedding planner.  When she discovers that her estranged father left her a ranch in Jubilee, Texas, she has no choice but to drive from Chicago to check the place out.  Three months of job hunting has left her in precarious financial straits, so discovering that she’s inherited a house is the answer to her prayers.  Until she sees the ramshackle cabin and meets the surly cowboy who lives next door.  Now she just wants to sell the dump and get on with her life, but can she resist Jubilee’s small town charms?

I loved the start of this book.  Mariah, exhausted after driving from Chicago to Texas, discovers a naked cowboy in what she believes is her horse trough.  Only it isn’t her ranch she’s stopped at, it’s Joe Daniels, her father’s good friend and business partner.  Joe isn’t impressed when he finally meets Dutch’s daughter, and he thinks she is heartless for turning her back on her father.  What Joe doesn’t realize is that Dutch abandoned Mariah and her mother, and her childhood was spent moving from one wealthy household to another, as her mother, a domestic servant, struggled to raise her alone.  Mariah is bitter and resentful that Dutch dumped her and her mother so he could train cutting horses, and now that he’s dead, there is no hope of reconciliation.  She’s also resentful that Dutch treated Joe like a son, while she didn’t receive any scraps of his attention. 

The first half of the book drew me in and kept me engaged in the story.  I love small town settings, and Jubilee, despite all of the drama, seemed like a peaceful place to set down some roots.  I could understand Dutch’s attraction to the town.  The cutting capital of the world, it was immediately clear why he drifted there in the first place.  With big dreams to win big money with his horses, he needed to be right in the heart of cutting horse country.  After selling a promising prospect to Joe, he even had a place to call home, dilapidated as it was.  I could see the old cowboy living in the battered cabin, finally being content enough to try to plant some roots.  Unfortunately, an unexpected illness put an end to his dreams.

Joe is devastated by Dutch’s death, which occurred two years to the day after the death of his wife in a riding accident.  Joe is suffering, reeling from the loss of the two people he loved most.  He doesn’t understand the chip on Mariah’s shoulder; nor can he understand that she’s not openly mourning Dutch’s death.  While Mariah is cool and reserved, and not about to wear her heart on her sleeve, Joe is more open with his feelings.  Everyone knows he is suffering, and the small community bands together to keep on eye on him.  When Mariah arrives in town, she, too, finds the community welcoming and caring.  At first put off by their interest in her, she discovers that being neighborly, something didn’t get much of in Chicago, isn’t a bad thing.  I found that the various secondary characters helped keep the plot moving, and helped to ground Mariah.

What I didn’t like, and where the plot started falling apart for me, were all of the references to Sleepless in Seattle and the long winded dialogs when Joe and Mariah started opening up and sharing their feelings with each other.  I just didn’t find the conversations interesting, and the emotions fell flat for me because of that.   The tension between them seemed to evaporate.  Mariah kept holding Joe’s love for his horses over his head, too, even though he proved, time and again, that he was nothing like her father.  To be complete, Joe needed roots and someone to share his dreams with, but Mariah refused to believe in him or the promises that he offered to her.  It just frustrated me that she wouldn’t give him the chance he deserved, and so her lack of trust in him felt forced to me.

Grade:  C+

Review copy purchased from Amazon

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Review: Animal Magnetism by Jill Shalvis

 

Title: Animal Magnetism

Author: Jill Shalvis

Publisher: Berkley

ISBN: 978-0425239810

Reading Level: Adult

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Co-owner of the town’s only kennel, Lilah Young has lived in Sunshine, Idaho, all her life. Pilot-for-hire Brady Miller is just passing through. But he soon has Lilah abandoning her instincts and giving in to a primal desire.

It’s Brady’s nature to resist being tied down, but there’s something about Lilah and her menagerie that keeps him coming back for more.

Review:

Animal Magnetism is a book that I picked up on impulse at a Borders’ closeout sale.  One look at the woe-be-gone puppy cuddled to the cover model’s chest, and I had to have it.  I didn’t even read the synopsis on the back of the book.  I have been challenging myself to read books outside of my normal comfort zone, so I scooped this up, thinking that the puppy couldn’t steer me wrong.  He didn’t!

Due to preconceived, and highly erroneous,  impressions I had about the line, I have avoided any Berkley Sensation titles.  I am not sure why or when I started to view them in such a negative light, because I have never actually read one, but for the record, my idea of what they are like was so far off base it’s not even funny.  This is a fun, humorous contemporary romance with engaging characters and an added cast of critters to complicate the protagonists’ lives.

Lilah makes a bad first impression with Brady Miller when she crashes into his truck.  Oops!  It was  really the duck’s fault, but trying to explain that would make her sound absolutely nuts.  Lilah is lucky that Brady turns out to be a nice guy, because she has a carload of animals to ferry back to her kennel.  Instead of leaving her hanging out to dry, he offers to chauffeur her, and her charges, home.  Before you can say “Quack!” they share a mutual attraction, but as Brady makes it quite clear, he’s only in town for a short time to visit his foster brothers, and then he’s hitting the highway again.

And this brings me to the reason I gave the book a slightly lower grade than I would have otherwise.  Lilah pursues a fling with Brady, knowing that there is no future for them. She accepts that he isn’t going to be a permanent addition to her life, and she wants to get him and her blazing attraction to him out of her system.  This is my second least favorite romance trope, with the dreaded destined mate trope edging out in front.  I’ve only been reading romances again for a short while, and several of the book have featured this plotline.  Sigh. (Rant off)

Lilah isn’t the kind of girl to be content with a wild fling, regardless of how satisfying the sex is.  She takes her relationships very seriously.  She isn’t the love ‘em and leave ‘em kind of girl.  She values how other people feel, and that’s what I loved about her.  She grows attached to everything, even the stray animals she shelters for a short time.  It eats away at her every time she has to give them up, even knowing that she has found a wonderful, forever home for her furry charges.  I was a little resentful of Brady for what I saw as almost taking advantage of her.  He knows what she’s like, and he still agrees to a no-strings attached relationship.  Sometimes somebody has to be the adult and just walk away from a situation before someone else gets hurt.  When it started to look like his feathers were going to get singed, too, I forgave him.

The sparks fly between Lilah and Brady, and steam almost rises off of the pages.  While their relationship is riveting (and hot!), it’s the secondary characters who give this book its soul.  Lilah lives in a small town, and everyone knows everything about everybody else.  When a sexy stranger drifts into town and makes a temporary home above the animal clinic, every woman from miles around is drawn to openly drool over the very eligible bachelor.  Better yet, the staff running the clinic is made up of two more hotties, and I am left to wonder if the practice would be as profitable if Dell and Adam resembled some of their four-legged clients.  Dell, Adam, and even Jade quickly won me over with their humor.  All of these tough guys (and one snarky girl) are caring and concerned about the people around them.  I love people who will go out on a limb to give their friends a hand.  I am so happy that there will be more books featuring them, and am counting down the days until I can visit with them again and learn more about them.

There were a few places where I felt the plot was spiraling a teeny bit out of control, and I wondered at Lilah’s swift healing abilities, but I quickly shrugged these off and boosted up my suspense of belief barrier.  This is a quick, fun read, perfect for a little escape from reality.

Grade: B

Review copy purchased at Borders