Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold, or is it Hot? Oh well . . . "For Love or Legacy" by Ruth Cardello

Yes, it's been a while since I have posted . . . busy summer, lots of that Southwestern "dry heat" to contend with, and some not so good health issues that have kept me away from the blog.  But I have been checking in regularly and although there haven't been many comments, I hope that all of you are enjoying some good books and keeping up with some of the good new books as well as some that are being re-issued.  Over at The Book Binge where I also do book reviews, I have been reviewing a Viking historical series by Sandra Hill that has recently been re-released by Avon Book . . . just really delightful, funny, erotic, and very well researched novels that I missed the first time around and am so glad I was given the opportunity to review them now.

Here is a book that was released about a year ago, the second in a series.  The first book was a freebie from Amazon that I really liked and one I think lots of readers obtained.  Now the story continues with the rivalry between the Andrade and Corisi families with characters that were introduced in Book One.

Nicole Corisi will lose her inheritance if she doesn't find a way around the terms of her father's will, but she will have to partner up with her estranged brother's rival to do it. As pretense becomes painfully real, Nicole will have to choose between Stephan and the family he is driven to destroy.

Stephan Andrade has been planning his revenge ever since Dominic Corisi unscrupulously took over his father's company. With Corisi Enterprises gambling its reputation on the success of a new software network for China, Stephan finally has his chance to take back his legacy. Dominic's younger sister, Nicole, asks Stephan for his help and provides him with an opportunity to exact his revenge on a personal level.

It all goes smoothly until he falls in love. 

The phrase "Poor Little Rich Girl" came to mind while reading this novel, one that was very popular regarding Barbara Hutton, Christina Onassis, and others who had millions in the bank but found that they probably could count on one or two fingers the true friends they possessed.  In our heroine's case, she had lost her mother early in her teens--mom just up and left--and now her dad, her abusive and unloving dad, had died.  She has been estranged from her brother Dominic for years and he not only left her high and dry when her mother took off, he also put the screws to her relationship with the Andrade family when he bought out their software corporation.  

The setting for this novel takes place seven years after that buy-out, seven years after the love of her life blew up at her and left her stranded on their one and only date, and seven years after her relationship with the entire Andrade family ended and which put her on the outs of the only real family she had ever experienced.  But the old bitternesses continue, the old hurts and wounds have not healed, and now when Nicole needs Stephan's help in the worst way, his anger, his obsession with crushing Nicole's brother continue to not only keep them apart but close him off to Nicole's impassioned plea for help.

This novel is really a terrific piece of writing and brings to life the issues that are germaine to a the lives of two people who are basically good but who have been overwhelmed by the hurts and jealousies that this kind of family rivalry often spawn.  Add in the fact that Nicole has been abandoned by everyone she ever thought she could depend upon, and you have a woman who finds herself at the crossroads in her life journey.  One of the most interesting characters in the book is her substitute limo driver--a young man named Jeff, who is subbing for his dad.  A psychology major in graduate school, Jeff manages to be one of those behind-the-scenes guys that throws in some timely advice and observations that keep Nicole thinking in some much more healthy ways--ways that help her see herself more accurately and give her hope that somehow her life can be redirected into positive actions and activities.

This is a really great novel and one that keeps the reader's interest moving forward.  There is certainly animosity between some of the characters but it is nicely balanced with loving friendship and the discovery that there really are people "out there" who can care and offer authentic friendship without strings or emotional blackmail.  It is not what I would call erotic romance per se but there is certainly a sexual tension between Nicole and Stephan that begins almost from the first and persists until the very end.  Hope, disappointment, caring, betrayal, family, friends, and some jaw-dropping surprises along the way make up a novel that is a very entertaining read.  I think you will want to check this one out.  I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Oh, Those Hot High School Cheerleaders! "Kissin' Tell" by Lorelei James

She once led him around by a string. Now he’s the one holding the reins.

Georgia Hotchkiss swore wild horses couldn’t drag her back to Sundance, Wyoming. So it’s ironic she’s forced to take a rodeo PR job in her former hometown—right before her ten-year class reunion. The only thing worse than facing her cheating ex-husband and his pregnant wife? Showing up to the reunion without a date. Fate smiles on her when she runs into her former classmate and current cowboy hottie Tell McKay. With his infectious smile and fun-loving ways—not to mention his banging body—he’s the perfect solution to her problem.

Tell McKay had it so bad for Hot Lips Hotchkiss during high school that he let her run roughshod over him. But he is no longer that easily manipulated boy—these days he’s earned a reputation with the ladies that lives up to the McKay last name. He agrees to escort her to the reunion with one stipulation; that Georgia proves she has left behind the goody-goody cheerleader of the past—by sharing his bed.

Their sexual chemistry flashes so bright, they barely notice that the reunion has come and gone, and now they’re tangled up in another dreaded “R” word—relationship. But if Tell wants to get the girl this go-around, he’ll have to come up with a whole new set of knots to tie up her heartstrings.

There are few authors who can manage an extended series embracing a family tree as extensive as the McKay Clan of Sundance, Wyoming, but Lorelei James is one of them.  Some readers are not necessarily continuing on with these "Rough Riders" books, but I am delighted each time I see a new one show up for my eReader.  We have been introduced to difficulties experienced by the sons of Joan and Casper McKay, both now living their own lives following their messy and hurtful divorce.  Yet their divorce was no more hurtful than their marriage and the effect it had on all their sons.  With Luke's death (which was spoken of in Cam McKay's story), the remaining three sons--Brandt, Tell, and Dalton--must now make their own way as each is effectively estranged from their father, a man who is now sober but is just as mean and judgmental.  Tell is the son who has picked up the pieces for everyone else.  Brandt and Jessie are involved with the arrival of their first son.  Dalton is off doing his thing, trying to live up to the "Lothario" label that has become the norm for the McKay men.  Tell is the one who takes on the extra chores, baby sits Luke's illegitimate son when no one else can take him, and still tries to manage to carve out a life for himself.  Seeing his old flame, Georgia Hotchkiss in a  Sundance establishment was so far from anything he had ever expected.

Some reviewers have found difficulty with the childishness of the communication or lack thereof between these two.  Yet they were now adults who were still trying to resurrect a kind of connection that had been very problematic a decade before in high school.  Tell was the guy that quietly made very good grades in school and whose crush on Georgia was the weakness she exploited whenever she needed something done that no one else would do.  Now he was a genuine cowboy "hottie" and Georgia really didn't know how to handle that.  Georgia had been the cheerleading "queen" and had been the girl all the guys drooled over from afar.  Now she was still a looker, but she had a woman's body instead of a teenager, and she was single, mourning the death of her twin brother still, and trying to figure out how to relate to people who clearly thought little of her these days.  It was a relationship that had a ton of potential emotional potholes just waiting to complicate the path to true love.  It was very definitely a serious and sometimes difficult learning experience for each of these people and while they burned up the sheets together, their individual insecurities often got in the way of caring and affection that was beginning to grow up between them.

As always, I think Ms James wants her readers to see each of her characters against the backdrop of a contemporary Western community and an extended family that is deeply involved in one another's lives but which is struggling to acknowledge each family member as a viable individual as they grow up.  Within that framework, each of her characters must work out their own issues, resolve their own conflicts, address their own insecurities and find their own sense of self and place in the world, the community, and the family.  So while this novel is very much about Tell and Georgia's up/down love affair, it is also about a growing up experience they each must do and that learning and growing influences their relationship to each other as well as to their wider family.  One of the most critical scenes for Tell, IMHO, is when he must finally let his mom know that he is not always available at the drop of a hat to make everyone else's plans work.  He has his own life and he begins to learn how to say "no."  Not an easy lesson for many of us to learn.

This is an engaging novel and one that is full of color, grit, hot loving, and the reality of human living.  I make no secret that I really love this series and am looking forward to and hoping for Dalton and Gavin's stories in the future.  I give this novel a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

From Rodeo Star to America's Bachelor: "Bet On A Cowboy" by Julie Benson

Love Is The Wild Card . . . Commitment phobic Colorado cowboy Griffin McAlister has it all figured out. Do the reality dating show, get the money his family desperately needs and go on with his life. Actually falling in love was never part of the deal...least of all falling in love with the show's spunky director.

 Maggie Sullivan knows she's found a star the minute she meets Griffin. But as she gets to know the man behind the dimples, she realizes she might have found something more. It doesn't matter, though; she has a job to do. Besides, how could he ever notice her while he's busy wooing ten gorgeous women? Now Griffin has a choice to make: stick with the plan and lose Maggie forever, or risk everything for a chance to win her heart!

He's a former rodeo star, in line for a Professional Bull Rider's championship, literally leaving his closest competitors "in the dust."  But severe injuries in a terrible auto accident ended that dream and effectively ended Griffin's sense of self-worth, his dreams of being a contributing member of his family, his sense of being someone who could hold his head high.  Yes, his family loved him, but he had passed over a college education and was now working the family ranching operation, just another ranch hand.   His brother had brought in a nice chunk of change due to a modeling contract, so Maggie Sullivan's offer to  make him the bachelor every man in America envied--rejected outright at first--began to look pretty good when he found out how much money he could make to help pay for his mother's costly cancer treatments.  The problem?  He really didn't want a wife--the ultimate goal of the TV show.

Maggie was a dedicated woman--dedicated to her job and dedicated to saving sufficient money so that she could have a child through the miracle of modern artificial insemination.  She had finally given up on the possibilities of having a child the "normal" way and had no illusions that anyone like Griff could ever see her past the 10 beautiful women who would fill his life for 10 weeks.  So she just did her job, working hard to keep her focus on the demands of the "higher ups," while working very hard to protect her heart from the pull of the most beautiful man she had ever encountered.

This is truly a fun read, filled with ups and downs emotionally, fun and joy, sadness and pain, hopes and hopelessness.  It is a story set against the close ties of family, the deep love of two men for their ailing mother, and the deep feelings that come from dreams realized and dreams lost.  It is easy to read in the sense that it is well written and the story flows from scene to scene.  The characters have the sheen of realism, especially as the reader sees the development of the story mostly through Maggie and Griff's eyes.  There were tears from time to time followed close on with chuckles.  The women of the TV show were unbelievable at times, yet most of us recognize people with that sort of unrealistic expectation, especially those of us who live in Southern California.  It's just a very good story and a fun read.  I think lovers of fun romance stories will enjoy this novel.  I give it a rating of 3.75 out of 5.

This novel was released by Harlequin in June, 2012.

Friday, August 3, 2012

She Stole My Guy And You Want Me to Plan Her Wedding??? "When We Touch" by Brenda Novak

You’re invited to a wedding in Whiskey Creek, Heart of the Gold Country.

Unfortunately, it’s the wrong wedding. Olivia Arnold is arranging the festivities—and it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done. Because she should be marrying Kyle Houseman. They were together for more than a year…. But her jealous sister, Noelle, stole him away—and now she’s pregnant.

All their friends in Whiskey Creek know as well as Olivia does that Kyle’s making a mistake. His stepbrother, Brandon, knows it, too. But Kyle’s determined to go through with it, for his child’s sake.
Olivia’s devastated, but surprisingly Brandon—the black sheep of the family—is there to provide comfort and consolation. The intensity between them, both physical and emotional, shows Olivia that maybe Kyle wasn’t the right man for her… But is Brandon?

I can't even imagine what such a situation would feel like, nor can I even imagine a family that would even think of asking the sister that has been rejected to plan the wedding of the spoiled and triumphant sister who has "stolen" her sister's almost-fiance.  And yet, that is the setting in which this story occurs.  It is a deeply emotional tale, filled with pain and that sense, right from the beginning, that no one can really understand parents who could be so clueless to the brokenness that one of their daughters has caused the other, or who have never actually recognized the mean spirit that lives within that spoiled brat of a human being. 

The other mystery, at least for me, is why Olivia would even cave in to these people.  Yes, that's been the family tradition--Noelle gets her way, and Olivia is drawn in as the co-dependent handmaiden to her sister.  Time and time again Olivia gives in, all in the name of family peace, and the person who is injured time and time again is Olivia herself.  Now not only has Olivia's family betrayed her once again, but the man she had been with for over a year has demonstrated his weak moral fiber in even caving in to Noelle's seduction--as if he had never seen that woman in action during the year he had been involved with Olivia and her family.  What a wuss!!  I have to own up to being really irritated to nearly everyone in this story for a good part of the story.  I know from my own counseling experience that dysfunctional families pull these kinds of hurtful actions on one another, their individual members are out of emotional balance, and the end result is the kind of wound that can often linger years before healing.

And then there's Brandon . . . Kyle's stepbrother, a relationship that has been strained and contentious ever since their respective parents married.  Brandon felt like he lost his family when their parents married and Kyle became the favored son.  So he "did his own thing" and became the "square peg in the round hole" and lived his own way.  He and he alone felt Olivia's pain, recognized the unhealthy atmosphere of the entire circumstance, drew Olivia into an embrace of understanding and a haven of comfort she had long stopped expecting from her own parents.  I really liked Brandon a lot!

This is not an easy novella, not the kind of happy-go-lucky romance that could be a pleasant reading interlude.  No, this short work stretches the reader's emotional boundaries, makes the mind work, has a most definite distress component, and certainly sets the reader up for asking some serious questions of the narrative.  Perhaps that's why this story stands out for me.  It made me work, and in the "working" I experienced an even greater sense of satisfaction when I reached the end.   It is a novella that adds to the Whiskey Creek family of characters as it moves the reader toward future stories to come out of this very small, intense, and closely connected community. A really terrific read.  I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

This novel was released 31 July 2012 by Harlequin under its Mira imprint.