Friday, December 30, 2011

Love in All Forms: Calvin's Cowboy by Drew Hunt

Calvin Hamilton reluctantly returns to his home town of Parrish Creek, Texas, to sell his parents' house. Finding the place in need of repair he hires John "Brock" Brockwell to renovate the house before putting it on the market. Brock bares a passing resemblance to Gary Cooper, especially as he often wears western clothing. Calvin has always had a weakness for cowboys. 

Time has reversed the two men's fortunes. In high school Brock was the big man on campus, his popularity allowing him to hide his true nature. Calvin was a nerd, bullied by most of the jocks for being perceived as gay. Now Calvin is a successful New York advertising executive, and Brock is a divorced father with a teenage son who faces financial ruin, unable to pay his late father's hospital bills. 

Can Calvin put past bitterness behind him and help the cowboy with whom he is rapidly falling in love? Will the deeply closeted Brock be able to admit he has feelings for Calvin? Or will pride, fear, distance, and the past prevent them from building a future together?

I don't often read M/M fiction but from time to time I find a book that I enjoy and which I feel has merit, both in its writing as well as the nature of the story.  I really can't remember why I was drawn to this book, but I know that I found it to be one of the most enjoyable I have read in some time.  

This story has a natural feel, a gentle flow, and characters that feel and sound incredibly authentic and real. These two main characters have a past, one that goes all the way back to their high school days when Calvin was small for his age, was a book worm or geek, and John Brockwell was the Big Man jock with the well-heeled dad and the popularity that went with his athletic prowess.  Now "Brock" is broke, his pockets so empty he barely has money for food, has a truck that may or may not start, is two months behind on his rent.  He married because the girl in question got pregnant and it was his family's policy that marriage in that case was absolutely demanded.  Now Brock's son lives with him and he is trying to find a way to keep body and soul together.

Calvin is now the wealthy advertising executive in New York City, co-owner of his own firm, with plenty of money to spare.  He has returned to his hometown to sell his parents' home where he grew up, and Brock's company is given the sizeable contract to renovate and refurbish the house in preparation to sell it.    In the course of their negotiations and getting re-acquainted as mature men, it becomes evident that Brock is gay but has not come to peace with his orientation.  Calvin has been "out" for years.    While some reviewers have seen this story as being without the "conflict" that is an important part of any novel, I maintain that the conflict is two-fold:  first, there is immediate conflict between the two men over their past history and over Brock's issues with Calvin who tries to relieve his financial pain;  second, there is very obvious conflict over Brock's sexual orientation.  In spite of their strong attraction to one another, Brock is continually worried about anyone finding out about his new involvement with Calvin.  This inner struggle also translates into the questions Brock has to face about his financial woes as well as how this will impact his future relationship with his son.  I have a hard time seeing this story as being conflict-free.

This is a warm and intimate look-see into the new relationship between these two men who have grown into fine human beings and who have moved past the silliness and petty behavior of high school immaturity.  It is evident that Brock is very different now than he was in his high school days as he owns up to his destructive behavior as well as his willingness to overlook the bullying and meanness of others.  Calvin's attraction to Brock is a bit of a difficulty initially  since he has been misused and emotionally abused by past lovers who saw him as a well-heeled ticket to future success rather than as a person with whom they wanted to share their lives. Yet it is a credit to Brock that he refuses to take undue advantage of Calvin even though he could have easily done so.   I was deeply touched by Calvin's efforts to re-connect with Brock even before he became aware of his sexual attraction to the man.  Calvin was just a really good man whose sensitivity to others was an indication of his sterling character.

This story is a reminder to everyone that human love comes in all sizes, shapes, and genders.  It is a reminder that how people love is far less important than their willingness to allow love to be an important part of their human experience.    The flow of the story is gentle as is the ending.  It is far more true to life than many novels I have read and I applaud Mr. Hunt's effort to give us characters that are so real.  I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Love or Career? Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

It's the fourth day of Christmas and I have enjoyed this week between Christmas and the New Year's celebrations.  It always has seemed just a little more relaxed with the two major holidays like bookends enclosing this eight day period.  It has also meant a good bit more time to do some reading and reviewing and I have been spending time catching up on both. Here's a review of a book I read about a year ago and thought it was wonderful.  Now it has been released as a published book rather than just an ebook, and hopefully more readers will discover the beginning of this delicious family series.

When Keri Daniels' editor finds out she has previous carnal knowledge of reclusive bestselling author Joe Kowalski, she gives Keri a choice: get an interview or get a new job.

Joe's never forgotten the first girl to break his heart, so he's intrigued to hear Keri's back in town--and looking for him. Despite his intense need for privacy, he'll grant Keri an interview if it means a chance to finish what they started in high school.  He proposes an outrageous plan--for every day she survives with his family on their annual camping and four-wheeling trip, Keri can ask one question. Keri agrees; she's worked too hard to walk away from her career.
But the chemistry between them is still as potent as the bug spray, Joe's sister is out to avenge his broken heart and Keri hasn't ridden an ATV since she was ten. Who knew a little blackmail, a whole lot of family and some sizzling romantic interludes could make Keri reconsider the old dream of Keri & Joe 2gether 4ever.
The choices women face in today's world are significantly more complicated than in former days.  Even as I was finishing high school and college, women were beginning to make a stand for better opportunities outside the home, better educational opportunities, and better pay for their contributions to business and commerce.  But that increased level of personal and professional opportunity has come at a price.   Choices between having a full and fulfilling personal relationship and following a demanding career path has been a rather significant struggle for many women.  In this story the author never backs away from investigating Keri's dilemma--one that has been present in her life and emotions from those days when high school came to an end and with it her relationship with Joe.  She walked away and didn't return until now when her publication is insisting on an exclusive interview with a man who is now well known and whose privacy will only succumb to someone Joe knows--someone who shares a past with him.
This novel is the beginning of a series that highlights several members of the Kowalski family.  Joe and Keri have moved on -- or have they?  Their past may very well be poised to make an appearance in their present, something Keri isn't terribly anxious to have happen, largely because there is still that old struggle over a woman's independence and the right to follow a career dream.  This novel is fun to read, and the introduction to the Kowalski family is done beautifully.  The characters are very well crafted so that readers really know the various family members.  The interaction within the family circle is delightful, even some of the snafu over kids, the upsets the teens experience, and some of the issues that become important for Joe and Keri.  
This is a book worth reading and if it is already in your library as an ebook, it's worth re-reading!  I know I have gone and re-visited the entire series and found each to be just as delightful and satisfying a read as it was the first time around.  This is one book all real and genuine romance fans need to have in their possession.  I encourage you to make it one of your literary friends.  I give it a 4.75 out of 5 rating.
This novel has been re-released by Harlequin in December, 2011.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's Almost The First Day of Christmas

It's almost here -- the First Day of Christmas.  It is almost time to do whatever the Christmas Eve traditions are in our families.  In my hubby's family, my mother-in-law would always make oyster stew, white cornbread, and candle salad--a flat piece of leaf lettuce, a half of a banana standing upright, a little bit of mayo/cream cheese mixture that had been colored with red food coloring, with 1/4 of a maraschino cherry in the top like a flame.  We have continued that tradition for many years, even though my in-laws are both gone now.  It is not only now our families tradition but it is a way of remembering so many years when they were still with us and when our kids were little.  

We always opened our presents on Christmas eve--my dad started that.  He always said that Christmas Eve was for us, and Christmas Day was for Jesus--it's his birthday anyway.  So we got to have our oyster stew supper, then we all had a mug of hot chocolate, we would gather around the Christmas tree, my hubby would read the Christmas story out of the Gospel of Luke, and then we would open presents.  We always handed the gifts out, one child at a time.  Everyone had to wait while that person opened their presents.  This started when my sister and I were young--we only got two or three presents.  One from my parents, and one from each of my grandparents.  It just made the presents last a little bit longer.  Even now, with our grown-up kids and our in-law children and grandkids with us, we still take the time to enjoy each person's presents.  I think everyone likes being in the spot-light for just a little while.

I heard a wonderful song the other day and the lyrics really impressed me.

Do you remember me
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you
With childhood fantasies.
Well, I'm all grown up now
And still need help somehow;
I'm not a child
But my heart still can dream.
So here's my lifelong wish
My grown up Christmas list:
Not for myself
But for a world in need.
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end.
This is my grown up Christmas list.

It's my sincere wish that all of you and yours will experience true joy and peace during this Christmas season, and I continue to hope that we will all take some time to find ways to help those who have so little and share some of the great prosperity that we all have experienced.

Merry Christmas to you all!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The KISS Method for Christmas -- It's A Gift To Be Simple . . .

I couldn't stop laughing when my sister sent me this photo . . . how creative and yet, I have to won up to the fact that as I gaze at some of the Christmas lighting excess in our community, I would have wanted to do something just like this.  While I think these folks wanted all the next door visitors to have a good laugh, it did indeed make the point that the big electric bills weren't going to be coming to their house.  In this case, as far as their bank account was concerned, simple really was the way to go.

Yet there is also the annual decisions to make when the holiday approaches.  For me, lots of Christmases have come and gone, and for some years we have had the house decorated inside and out.  A couple of years ago my hubby and I were so busy with family and community and church we ended up having Christmas at our daughter's house and didn't even get the Christmas tree out of the closet--yet, we do have an artificial tree.  I guess I'm one of those "save a tree" people in a very real sense, but I also remember the annual "pain in the vacuum cleaner" we had every year growing up when we were trying to vacuum up all the dead tree droppings off the living room rug.  I will admit I missed the tree.  I have some old fashioned, Dickensonian houses that I have accumulated through the years and we did put those out on the book shelf, but I missed the tree.  I love Christmas trees.  One year I left ours up until April . . . it was almost an Easter tree that year.

But there is also that part of me that knows that my faith is rooted in the belief that Christmas is really not about presents and commercial sharing.  I want to do my part for our nation's economy, and I do like getting a present or two--who doesn't?  Yet, there is that reality that most of the time hubby and I are getting things for each other all year, and at our age, what is there that we really need?  He's always buying me jewelry that he thinks I will like, and I am always trying to find clothes that will delight him.  He isn't a clothes horse by any stretch of the imagination, but I know that he really gets a sparkle in his eye when he puts on one of his beautiful suits, picks out a cute tie, and "gussies up."  At Christmas--and his birthday is also five days before Christmas--trying to find something he really needs or wants is very nearly impossible.

Now our family does the annual name exchange, usually one of the daughters puts us all together with a drawing just after Thanksgiving.  We include the long-distance parts of our family as well, knowing that it means that they will probably not get our gifts to them until after Christmas.  However, we Americans don't pay much attention to the "Twelve Days of Christmas" which, by the way, begin on December 25.  So we always soothe our sense of "being late" with the fact that the gift will arrive sometime during those twelve days.

Last night, on the Family Channel, we watched "The Polar Express" again.  What a great story.  I remember when we went to a little church annually, not far from our daughter's home, the priest always pulled out that book and shared it with the congregation as his Christmas Day homily.  It is about believing in those things we can't see--friendship, caring, and even in the spirit that is Christmas, whether or not we refer to that spirit as "Santa Claus."  It was a fun reminder that keeping our holiday observances close to those kinds of realities--the ones we can't see--that will make the holiday live in our hearts.  For Christians it is about remembering whose birthday it really is.  For Jews it is about a faith that carried them through a time of great persecution to a victory over their enemies.  And for many others it is about remembering that our loved ones and friends, our authentic relationships are what keep us grounded and focused on realities that make us truly human.

It is indeed a gift to be simple--as the old Shaker hymn reminds us.  I trust that this will be a gift we can all claim this year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

An Oldie But STILL A Goodie: Haunted By Dreams by Norah Wilson

John Deadmarsh had loved Cassandra Ashe once, a long time ago. As a student in Toronto, he'd wooed the mysterious Maliseet beauty to his bed, only to have her steal away while he slept, taking his heart with her. When he runs into her seventeen years later in sleepy Fredericton, New Brunswick, the betrayal stings like it was just yesterday. Cass would like nothing better than to steer a wide berth around this tall, dark and dangerous reminder of her youthful mistake. But John, now a psychologist, is treating Cass's young friend Nikki. Their mutual concern for Nikki puts them in frequent conflict. From the first encounter, it's obvious the attraction is still there. 

To Cass's dismay, so is all that loaded emotion from that long-ago summer. Even more disturbing, she sees that John is just as haunted by the events of that summer as she is. How can she continue to deny him the truth about why she left him? But if she tells him the truth, what will it mean for the fragile new bond that's growing between them?

It isn't often that many of us find such delightful treasures unless we are the kind of book lovers who haunt used bookstores.  I do love the old stuff almost as much as the new books that are appearing at an unbelievable rate.  I find, though, that I get caught up in waiting for the next batch of new books and as a reviewer I am usually inundated with stacks of them.  Once in awhile I begin researching an author and find a treasure like this book and am reminded of all the great reading that is "out there" that I have missed because of being taken over by the "new book craze."

This is a story that caught my interest largely because the two main characters meet after seventeen years.  Yes, that's right, seventeen years.  Seventeen years of pain, remembered shared delight, questions, anger, and most of all, that empty feeling that comes whenever one allows those painful memories to remind each one that something that was so very special got put aside almost before it had a chance to become the wonder it was destined to be.  Cass is now 34, divorced but still very close to her ex.  He is a warm and caring man who loved Cass in his own way until he met his soul-mate.  He was prepared to honor his marriage vows and it was Cass who realized that something was dying inside her husband and set him free to be with his true love.  Our hero John is now 40, a licensed psychologist and professor at the local university, a man who could never really face marriage to someone other than Cass, and it is in the pursuit of her long-held dream of becoming a social worker with First Nation families that she and John meet after nearly two decades.  The anger and hurt surface immediately in the form of sarcasm and inuendo of a not very nice sort.  Through a strange set of circumstances, they continue to meet and those encounters force them both to sort out their feelings.

This story is full of surprises for the characters as well as for the reader.  At first I felt the animosity between Cass and John was a pit protracted, but when I thought about the nearly two decades of pain and questioning and, in Cass's case, carefully burying some important truth about that long-ago experience, I began to see their difficulties in moving beyond the anger.  It is also a novel that exposes readers to the extensive difficulties First Nation peoples continue to encounter  because of their color and their racial origin.  Canada struggles with prejudice against people of color as much as does any other country.  As Cass encounters the low self-esteem, the social problems, the lack of good housing and educational opportunity for her own people, she realizes that being adopted into a white, middle-class family has insulated her from so very much.  

So this is really a wonderful love story about second chances as well as a very skillful social commentary on the realities endured by Canada's original inhabitants.  Thus, it is a beautiful literary expression of Ms Wilson's writing skill as revealing some of her own concerns about some of these social ills that have plagued a really wonderful country for a very long time.  I hope you will consider this novel and enjoy it as much as I did.  It is really worth going back and re-claiming this book that first appeared a decade ago.

In future days I will be reviewing some of Ms Wilson's newer work.  Hope you stop back by often.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I've Been Over At "The Island" For Three Days and Now I'm Back with A Book Review I Hope You'll Read

As a guest blogger over at Desert Island Keepers and had fun writing in that genre for three days. It's a fun place and right now there are posts from Vanessa Kelly as a guest blogger.

I have been reading lots the last couple of days as I have been dealing with a repeat bout of vertigo. The Dr. doesn't seem to know how to get to the root cause so am just taking antihistamines and--would you believe--sea sick pills. They seem to be working but having the room spin every time I make a quick movement gets old really fast. So I want to share a review of a book that I really enjoyed and kept me relatively immobile for quite a while.

Out spoken and independent, Lady Alexa Bingham enjoys the heady freedom of making all her own decisions, even though the challenges of overseeing her family's country estate are daunting. But when a chance encounter with London's most notorious rake awakens a secret longing for adventure, she accepts her aunt's invitation for a Season in Town . . . only to find that breaking the rules of the ton has serious consequences.

The Earl of Killingworth uses his rakehell reputation to hide the fact that poverty has forced him to work for a living. As the owner of a gambling den and brothel, Connor has no time for glittering ballrooms or innocent young ladies. But after a reckless wager leaves him with a new business partner, he is forced to take a risky gamble . . . Will the cards fall in their favor?

Alexa and Connor begin to play a dangerous game of intrigue and deception as they seek to outwit a cunning adversary who wants to put them permanently out of business. But if they are not careful, it is the flames of their own fiery attraction that may destroy them.

The "crisis" in this story is initially the subtle but effective attack against the hero. Connor Linsley, Earl of Killingworth, is another one of those aristocrats who inherits an empty bank account and properties that make financial demands when there is not money, thanks to the gambling habit of his father. As a whiz at card games, he uses that skill to eventually become the owner of a gaming hell and brothel, one that is known as The Wolf's Lair. Connor then becomes known as the Irish Wolfhound, thanks to his mother's Irish heritage and it in the upper reaches of the brothel, of all places where Lady Alexa and Connor first encounter each other's independent spirit, their razor wit, and their mutual loyalty to those who are important to them. The kiss they exchange (Connor's "payment" for the information Alexa wants about her brother's whereabouts) begins as Connor's way of putting Alexa off, exposing her to the rough ways Connor has come to expect in his occasional romps with the fairer sex. However, it doesn't put either one of the "off" -- it becomes the kiss that Connor simply can't forget.I have been reading contemporary romance mostly in the past several months so it was fun to go back to my original passion: historical romance. Cara Elliot was an author I had encountered a while back so was delighted to read and review this newest book in a new series. I think she is a truly gifted writer who knows her stuff when it comes to telling a story in a way that keeps the reader's interest while teasing that interest forward.

This relationship seems to be a background story at first, because the initial action of the book is taken up with Connor's concern over the fact that someone is trying to "do him and his business in." Not only did a very skilled card sharp take him "to the cleaners" but the safe in his office was robbed almost immediately afterward, followed by an attack on both him and Lady Alexa. It is during his recuperation that these two begin to find their attraction to one another is more binding than they thought initially.

This is a well-written historical that takes in the ways of the ton as well as exposing the reader to the less refined levels of English society. It is also a mystery and the threads of that story are woven skillfully throughout the love story between Connor and Alexa. It's not a short read and it is not a simplistic story. It is very up-front about Alexa's resentment against a society that puts women in a display case and allows men to essentially do whatever they want as long as they pretend to be upstanding and proper. It explores that sense of independence and while it clashes with society and the expectations of friends, it also allows Alexa to be free with her concern, use her skills as a "country-bred miss" in helping Connor, and brings Alexa's mind into the story as well as her heart.

I make no bones about liking this kind of novel. I think it is a treat for the mind as well as for the heart. It is one of those stories that deals with the deeper and darker issues that make us truly human, that have been at the heart of human efforts to define individuals and societies historically, and which makes the heart of modern women glad. The freedoms that women enjoy today were hardwon by many who chafed under the yoke of social expectation. Alexa could be the poster girl for women who want to be esteemed as much for their mind and abilities as they do for the cut of their gown or the way they execute a dance step. I hope you'll consider making this novel a part of your "to be read" stack of books.

I give this novel a 4.25 out of 5.

Too Wicked to Wed was released in November under the "Forever" imprint.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Let's Talk Turkey . . . Being Thankful for More Than One Day

Well, turkey day has come and gone, and this year I didn't have to cook dinner for my entire tribe. We actually had Thanksgiving Dinner at someone else's home, and that was really neat and lots less work! One inevitable downer: no left-overs!! And I think the second best day of the year is the day after Thanksgiving with all the turkey left-overs. Yummmmm!! Hot turkey and gravy sandwiches; turkey pot pie; my mom's turkey croquettes; turkey hash; and on and on. Hubby and I would bake a turkey every month if we would think about it more often. We LOVE turkey.

But in truth, the food on Thanksgiving Day is really secondary, and perhaps more this year than for lots of years past, I am more aware than ever that my life is lacking a healthy portion of gratitude. Of course, I am thankful for friend and family--most of the time, that is. The kids and grandkids can be a bit wearing from time to time. What I am realizing is that I don't often stop and express thanks for the little things in my life--and some of the big ones, either. Like a good job, even at my age, lots of opportunities to read good books and to communicate with other readers, bloggers, authors, and people who share in that particular obsession. I am thankful for a hubby of long-standing -- a man who now is retired and who regularly tries to micro-manage my life, but who is always there to support and fit in, even if he really doesn't fully understand sometimes where I'm "coming from." I'm thankful for my health--something I have taken for granted for most of my life. Good genes and I think some good health practices early in my life are paying off now.

The real issue is that being thankful really does change the overall outlook people have in their everyday lives. It has even been known to change the body chemistry--changing the negative into the positive, and helping to move individuals through some rather overwhelming difficulties. "Counting Your Blessings" may seem as innocuous to many as counting sheep to overcome insomnia. But the anecdotal evidence shows that it really does work, makes a difference when some difficult happenings, situations, circumstances, etc. are threatening to overwhelm and upend.

So it is my sincere hope that all my readers and "followers" had a truly blessed and restful Thanksgiving Day holiday, didn't get too frazzled by "Black Friday," and are looking forward to the coming days, weeks, and months of living with thankful hearts and spirits.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Love Those Men In Blue: "The Night Is Darkest" by Jayne Rylon

Some secrets refuse to stay hidden.

Lacey Daughtry's perfect weekend is interrupted by tragic news of her brother's murder in the line of duty. Plagued by a rash of mysterious phone calls, she turns to her brother's best friends and fellow officers for protection-and comfort.

Spending time in close contact with Mason and Tyler, the two men she's dreamed of since her first girlhood crush, seems like the answer to a prayer. Especially when they begin to explore the desire she's harbored for so long. But the partners are holding out on Lacey. Determined to suppress the most extreme facets of their lust, they agree to settle for sharing the woman they crave while concealing their desire for each other. Until Lacey cracks their resolve, unleashing a torrent of emotions that threatens to distract them when they can least afford it.

Their blossoming relationship is complicated by secrets. And the only way to evade the killer threatening their lives is to bare their souls in the darkest hours of the night. Or everything will come crashing down, just before the dawn.

I recently read a couple of books written by Ms Rylon in collaboration with Mari Carr (The Compass Brothers Series: Northern Exposure, Southern Comfort) and really liked the style and content of the stories. So I looked up this author as an individual writer and discovered some additional books and this series entitled Men in Blue. (I had read and reviewed several of her books previously from Ellora's Cave for The Book Binge.) This first book was released in 2009 but is one that is very much rooted in contemporary times and places, is really about three people who have been friends for years, who are mourning the death of a much loved brother and friend, and who are keeping secrets from each other--at least they think the others are clueless. Like so much else in their long-standing association as friends and lovers, that assumption is wrong also. Mason and Tyler have been secret lovers for quite a while, have "wanted" Lacey as their third for even longer, but have agreed that their pursuit of her will be conducted as if they are just best friends. It's a small town with some fairly accomplished gossips and some highly judgmental people. Add in Mason's unwillingness to accept his attraction to Tyler, and you have a pretty good level of conflict on every front.

Lacey knows that she is seen as "the little sister" of their friend who has just been killed in the line of duty. She can't seem to get them to see her as a grown woman with a serious love for them and the need to have them in her life. They also don't realize that she has been aware that their friendship is closer than just "best friends" and that this reality certainly doesn't "turn her off." That is one of their greatest fears. She is being stalked but hasn't shared that with them either as they seem to be avoiding her.

This is not your simple boys-meet-girl kind of story. It isn't a simple menage tale where two men grab the girl and they are off for hot sessions of threesome sex. It is a story that is full of the conflicts the men feel over their attraction to each other, their worry about being open in acting on that attraction, their worry that Lacey might run from them if she knew, their conflict over her being their friend's "little sister," and their most urgent concern that Lacey won't be able to deal with their "dark" and kinky needs. There is also the mystery about who might be stalking Lacey, or perhaps the slowly emerging clues that the death of Lacey's brother might not have been accidental at all.

At its most basic, this novel is about discovering the depth and breadth of relationship--the grandeur that Mason and Tyler need to discover in their own love for each other, the maturity and acceptance that Lacey has for them both as lovers and her own dark needs that they can fulfill, and their need to come clean with each other and live in the open as honest lovers and friends. There is also an entire circle of "men in blue" that form a kind of extended family for these three, all of whom are accepting of them as individuals as well as a triad. As they discover each other they are going to be challenged to discover the authenticity of their friends' caring for them as well.

This novel is really beautifully written as the strands of each of these people's lives are woven together alongside the mystery that has engulfed them. Their discovery of the perpetrator, their sense of betrayal at who this is, their recognition of their ability to move beyond a very limited view of life and relationship are the factors that shape and form the context of a story that is full of surprises and which never leaves the reader bored or at loose ends. It is a worthy beginning to a trilogy that will draw the reader into the lives and experiences of a circle of friends--all of whom are different but equally talented, whose own experiences make the reading just that much more interesting. I loved the book and was so pleased to know that the experiences of these characters would continue on through books two and three. I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Feelings Exactly!! "Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy" by

Garrett was sure his obsession with Tessa would be the death of him. He'd watched her patiently for a very long time. Okay, so "patiently" wasn't exactly a good description. He'd run off every man within a mile of her for years. He knows her habit of skinny-dipping in the lake that joins their properties, and this time, he plans on taking advantage of it.

Tessa thought Garrett was out of reach. He's ten years her senior and always has a horde of slim blondes hanging off him. She's short, curvy, and black. Definitely not his type. Too bad no one told Garrett that. Now, Garrett is determined Tessa will be his, and this is one cowboy who won't take "no" for an answer.

While this story isn't a part of Cara North's Country Music Collection, I still noticed the book because of the title and its reference to a current contemporary country/western ballad. It is one of those stories that is tense and filled with less than optimum relationships right off the bat with characters that must struggle with the social barriers of race, color, and an age gap. It is about a cowboy who has never veered away from his wanting Tessa even though to most people it looked like he was a player--he always had the cute blonde salivating over him. Perhaps that is how he dealt with the issues he had to confront about their differences. His heart and his libido paid little attention to the social difficulties. They wanted Tessa.

I have always enjoyed interracial romances because they, like so many stories, take the reader away from the comfort zone most WASPs live in and they pose some scenarios that challenge every reader to be open to new possibilities. I have always thought that it takes a very determined couple to live outside what many would see as "norm" -- within their own racial structure and finding life partners within that context. Love is not aware of color barriers or even age gaps. Ten years is a lot of years--they make little difference initially, but eventually they make far more of a difference. Men simply don't live as long as women--at least, that is the national average--and those kinds of age differences can separate lovers eventually in the course of growing old. Don't get me wrong--I don't think that should make any difference in deciding who will be one's life partner. It's just the reality folks have to face.

I found this story to be so readable and enjoyed it a lot. I hope some of you will check it out. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

Friday, November 18, 2011

There's More To Me Than Just Being A Mother: "One Hot Mama" by Cara North

Rafe decides that it is time to make his move on Layla. Layla adores the man, but she has secrets too dark and too risky to let herself fall for him.

For a man who knows everything about women, he doesn't know anything about Layla and to earn her trust he has to do more than win over her children.

The is the third in the "Country Music Collection and a story which now features the third brother in the family--a man who has always been the peace-maker, the one who has stood in the gap when difficulties make family life uneasy and tense, and who now is drawn to a single mother with two kids. His efforts to draw her into any kind of relationship continually fall flat, and even the relationship he has established with the kids--they absolutely adore Rafe--doesn't seem to make much difference when it comes to bringing Layla and Rafe closer to where he would like to be.

As has been the case in the first two books, the story is edgy and real, the characters are not gilded with literary smooze, and the story smacks of contemporary life. The background characters are, in many cases, persons readers have met in the first two books, and their stories continue on just a bit. Certainly Layla is now in a quandry because the real stories of her past are in danger of being revealed. Yet she craves the relationship Rafe's brothers have managed to have and she wants security for herself and her kids.

This story is one of those novels that grabs your emotions and just doesn't let go until the last word is read. Even then I found it difficult to move away from the story and kept on thinking about the characters long after I had finished the book. I find that is true of the really good ones. If nothing else, the characters and their story connected with me on some level.

I think Cara North is a very accomplished writer and have enjoyed her style and her use of the language. Readers of contemporary romance fiction will like her writing and will find that her stories are compelling and worth the time and effort to read. I give this book a 4.25 out of 5.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back Up Ten And Punt: When Things Get Hairy in the Locker Room

I guess having lived for decades with a high school sports coach and having a son who is a football coach has finally rubbed off on me. If you don't believe me, then you'll probably have trouble believing that one of my thrills at being in Chicago recently was seeing Soldier's Field--the venue where the Chicago Bears play. I have heard about, been party to, and had my entire weekend taken over by sports, namely football. In the days when thee was only a single 13" TV in our living room, the kids and I got lots of other stuff done. Dad, of course, had taken over the TV for the entire weekend.

Most recently I have been shamed and saddened by the happenings at Penn State--the hurt that was revealed after being covered up for 13 years and the fall-out that is affecting the university now. I am most ashamed when I hear commentators speaking about the great damage done that day for Penn State. Oh Hello!! The hurt happened years ago and it wasn't just to the university. The loss of a beloved coach has to feel harsh and is difficult for lots of people the consider that such an action to fire Joe Paterno and the college president has to make lots and lots of students and alumni very upset. I know this is a hot button issue and I'll probably get scalded for my writing about it, but I am upset about lots of stuff pertaining to this situation.

First, I realize that Mr Paterno reported the illegal activity to the Athletic Director in the late 90's, but my understanding is that at the time Pennsyvania had a mandatory reporting law. That means that the coach had an obligation to report the information received to the law enforcement officials. That's not what happened. And perhaps the greatest sadness about this entire affair, apart from the damage done to the victims, is that Joe Paterno decided to protect his legend instead of making sure that a staff member was prevented from doing any harm to more youngsters. I know that sounds harsh and judgmental, but when people begin to believe their publicity and allow their public persona to be what they protect instead of seeking justice for those young boys, then there is something seriously wrong. I also know that college football is a force with which to be contended in our society and that influence is supported by millions of dollars worth of TV exposure, the whole NFL scouting machine, and the flow of those media dollars into the coffers of university and college athletic programs. And as beloved as Coach Paterno may be to the Penn State students and alumni, he became a part of the cover-up as soon as he opted out of his mandated reporting responsibilities.

This situation, like many others of the same kind, are full of wounding and scalding sadness--not only for the victims, but for lots of friendships and relationships that get caught up in and ground to powder by the the inevitable fall-out that will happen sooner or later. For those victims, it is justice long delayed. For the coaching staff and college administration it is a powerful wake-up call to honesty and transparency. Strangely enough, I am impelled to send prayers to everyone that will be ultimately touched by this tragedy. No matter how grand the football aura may be, no matter how legendary the coach, the sanctity of and respect for the human person of any age, much less a child, can never take second place.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

No, I Haven't Died!! I'm Really Home, Finally!

What an incredible privilege to be able to travel throughout our beautiful country and experience the beauty that we so often take for granted! Train travel affords a unique view of what is often seen from roads and freeways. Train tracks are most often in a different part of the town and wind their way through meadow and hill a far piece from the roadways. And I continue to sing the praises of train travel--quiet, long periods of time to read, knit, sleep, listen quietly to music, meet people from all over the country, and see some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet. What's not to like??

I continued my journey through Cara North's "Country Music Series" of novels and continue to find her writing very much to my taste. Book Two, She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy is another compelling story about a very different situation: a marriage that is on the rock even before the
marriage begins. Now admittedly we read of such happenings now and then among celebrities--i.e. the rece

Kardashian fiasco is a case in point. But I don't often encounter it in romance fiction. This book deals with such a scenario in a way that is edgy and seems to "go for the throat." It is visceral and gutsy and the characters are hurting big time. There were times when I wasn't sure this book could come up with a resolution. It almost read like a Greek tragedy.nt

Ms North has a wonderful way with a story. I hope that those of you who really like contemporary romance--straightforward, gutsy, and a healthy dose of eroticism mixed in--will take a look at this series. It caught my eye because I like the songs that are referenced in the titles, and while each is a stand alone novel, I would recommend starting with book one since the family and secondary characters are fascinating and really hold the reader's interest. Be prepared to feel the hurt, disappointment, passion, fear, and complicated relationships that are the stuff of real life. I think you'll be glad you indulged.

Never fear: I'll be posting some interesting reviews shortly. I am trying to catch up with some reviews I owe The Book Binge so right now I'm spread kind of thin. Those of you who checked in and found me absent, thanks for your faithfulness. Hopefully we'll all be back together and sharing some of the stuff that we have been reading in the past 4-6 weeks. Let me hear from you. I really love all the comments I receive.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reading On The Train: "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off" by Cara North

If you have been checking in from time to time, you know that hubby and I are on our BIG annual train trek, spanning the United States, moving from train to train, and having a ball doing it. Lugging suitcases around can be tiring, but at our age we don't get enough exercise anyway, so that has been all to our good. Moving from West to East, arriving in Boston, trekking North to Portland, Maine, then journeying South to Washington, D.C. and visiting friends who live nearby in Virginia, moving into my home state of Georgia and renewing friendship with long-time friends (that we met and got to know 49 years ago) near Atlanta, and now we are sitting a spell in the home of our oldest daughter who lives in Alabama. Hubby and daughter conspired to drive me to Nashville where we explored really old and unusual cars at the Lane Automobile Museum--absolutely a hoot and trip down memory lane--and an afternoon at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Special displays highlighting the talents and careers of Chet Atkins and Hank Williams, Jr were only a small part of the fun and really encountering a music genre that is uniquely American.

All that train riding makes time for computer games (that's hubby's thing), knitting afghans for church and friends, and, of course, READING!! As many of you have come to recognize, I like some of the older publications I missed out on in years past, and the two novels of Cara North I recently discovered were a treasure uncovered, to be sure. The titles caught my eye be
cause I really love country music and particularly liked the fun titles of these quirky songs.

Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off is a fun contemporary erotic romance about two people needing each other for different reasons and finding out that together they are one insatiable force. Bethany Dodson is running from her past and her fiancé. She needs a new last name and to get lost fast! Jack Johnson needs to marry a woman to get his inheritance so he can stop working on other ranches and rebuild the one he shares with his two older brothers and younger sister. When he meets Bethany, his goal is basically to get some action then get on searching for a wife. But Bethany kills two birds with one stone and the next thing he knows he's the one getting drug down the aisle! What they discover is more than just surface needs. They take each other to new heights in and out of the bedroom, push boundaries, and even fall in love!

What's a girl to do when she has everything money can buy, enough money to float a boat in her underwear drawer, and absolute certainty that she means nothing at all to her parents or the man who is "scheduled" to marry her? Why, she goes to Las Vegas, of course. She needs someone to marry her, give her a new name, let her begin a new life, and then he will be free--that is, if he wants to be free. In the same way, Jack Johnson needs a woman to marry, one who isn't a gold-digger, who can "put out" for at least three months, and who will gladly divorce him in three months--that is, if he is willing to let her go.

Thus the story of Bethany and Jack begins, tossing back shots of tequila, allowing their physical attraction to draw them into each other's sphere, daring one another to marry, and signing on the dotted line--temporarily, to be sure. Yet as life has a way of snookering us into surprises, so the attraction that these two explore and enjoy becomes the hook that seems to keep them connected as their respective stories unfold.

This story explores the healing power of love for a woman who knows her own mind, who has a killer education and plans to use it, and a curvy, voluptuous body she thinks of as fat. Yet Bethany is typical of many women who have incredible talent and learning but who are stunted by the disregard, disrespect, and actually be used rather than appreciated by the people who should have loved her best. Just the simple hugs Jack is willing to share, the fact that a gorgeous man seems to really be turned on by her body as well as her mind, has Bethany beginning to believe that she is loveable and can be valued for herself alone.

I found this novel to be so enjoyable, not really light-weight as it deals with some substantive issues that are unfortunately alive and well in the experience of a multitude of today's women. The loving is warm and inviting, the sex is incredible, and the story of how a relationship that began under less-than-optimum circumstances all combine to make a novel that is a joy to read and, might I add, re-read. Published in 2007, Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off is still contemporary and pertinent to the world of today's women. I highly recommend it as a novel that will warm your heart, massage your libido, and engage your mind as well. Don't miss this one. I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On The Road Still . . . Reflections of an Amtrak Traveler

If you have been checking in, then you know that
we are on our Amtrak trek across the United States, and we are now in Virginia where we are visiting some long-time friends with whom we served in the Army nearly 50 years ago when we were all stationed in Berlin. It was a weary world then as it is now, and we were in the midst of what was then called "The Cold War." We have stayed in touch through the years, but this is the first time we have been together in nearly 16 years. Renewing old friendships is such fun, especially when we were surprised with the information that our friends were celebrating a wedding anniversary. We celebrated by driving along the ridges of the Blue Hills of Virginia at the Skyline National Park. The colors were spectacular--hills dotted with yellow, orange, and red trees. All testified that the winter was coming and were showing off their beauty in a last blast of glory.

Now we are off to Atlanta where we will re-connect with another couple who were stationed with us in Berlin. Perhaps being several years behind the Iron Curtain (as the boundaries of the Soviet Union were then called) can cause people to forge friendships that have better-than-average strength, a tensil strength that lasts for years afterward. We will be moving on in a couple days after that to visit with family, spend a couple of days in New Orleans, then journey to Chicago and after a couple of days' sojourn there, journey home via the California Zephr.

Hope all of you are staying well and getting your flu shots, the relatively new pneumonia shots, and updating your immunity regularly. Adults aren't usually good at that so we do well to look to our own health even as we are trying to care for those around us. Keep on keeping on, and I'll be updating you again soon. Until next time . . .

Saturday, October 15, 2011

There Ain't Any Such Thing As A Werewolf!! "Cry Wolf" by Angela Campbell

Andrea Lockhart's job as a reporter for cheesy tabloid The Naked Truthisn't exactly where she thought her journalism career would end up. She's determined to make the best of it, but when her editor sends her to Woodbine, South Carolina, to investigate a werewolf sighting, Andrea decides the ridiculous assignment will be her last. Until she meets Sean Hunter.

The last time she saw Sean, he had just beat her out for the position of editor of their college newspaper, and told her she'd never make it as a reporter. Given his grand ambitions, she's shocked to find him editing theWoodbine Weekly. Once they start competing for leads on the werewolf, Andrea becomes determined to break the story first—she can't let Sean beat her again.

As they each get closer to finding the source of the rumors, the only thing more surprising than the truth are the feelings Sean is able to stir in her, feelings she thought she had left behind...

We've all seen them . . . those sensationalism-filled news "rags" displayed by the check-out stands in grocery stores and other retail stores. Some of the head-lines are so bazaar that it is more a source of comedy than information. No one really takes the tw0-headed baby seriously! Yet there are people who continue to work for these organizations and they continue to flourish because customers continue to buy their craziness. No serious journalist would work for one of those publications--or so we think.

Yet in this novel that is exactly who is writing for a tabloid called The Naked Truth. Andrea is an award-winning journalist who has been writing for some of America's most respected news organizations, but who now finds herself as a feature writer for a tabloid. And her most unwelcome story to date: getting the "naked truth" about the werewolf sightings in a small community who has reported these for years. All because she laughed out loud at the ludicrous nature of the assignment. Now it is hers.

Adding to the crazy nature of this assignment is the shock of finding herself hanging upside down in a hunter's snare, being rescued by a young reporter on the local weekly newspaper along with his editor who turns out to be her chief competitor from college and an old college crush who "crushed" her with his scathing words about her appearance, wardrobe, and general unsuitability as an aspiring journalist. Those old verbal wounds are still very much alive in her heart and mind, and now she finds that he not only doesn't remember her but she has to rely on him for some of her contacts connected to running down this story.

This is a book that is about werewolves but in a strong sense isn't really about that phenomenon. It is more about the people who are struggling with the issue of whether or not such a creature exists, whether to debunk the legend, dealing with those in the community who will not be moved from their conviction that such a "monster" exists, and the human element in confronting this issue--the old love-interest, family, getting over old wounds, dealing with unscrupulous journalists connected with the tabloid, preserving one's own integrity professionally, and so on. There is so much going on in this book, yet I had the feeling throughout that the author really had it all under control and was going to make it all come together. The story really centers around Andrea Lockhart's own inner struggle as a professional, dealing with the old emotional hurts even as she is getting re-acquainted with the source of those hurts--a man who has clearly changed as much as she has in the ten years since they first knew each other. Her challenge is to balance those old hurts and feelings with what she is learning about him now and who he has become.

I found this novel to be more about the people involved in the story than just about the "werewolf" stuff. And because of that it was a very good reading experience. My entire interest in all romance fiction is exploring the human relationships, the struggle with the human thought process and the issues that influence the way people determine their choices and how they proceed on their life journey. Andrea is like so many others: just trying to do her job, not really sure she can look forward to any kind of private life that will be fulfilling. The hurts of her recent past have cast a pall over any hopes and dreams she may have had. How can she get around those, how can she hope to have a life that is fulfilling and connected to others when any connections from the past have been so disappointing?

Contemporary romance fans will enjoy this book with its many background characters and its interesting story line. Add in the "spice" of the paranormal and you have a unique story that is worth the time and effort to read and enjoy. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.

This novel has an expected release date from Carina Press of 10/31/2011.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Whew!! I Made It Home In One Piece

Can you believe it? Rain in Los Angeles? Lots of rain in Los Angeles? Well, I'm here to tell you we had buckets of rain on Wednesday, and as usual, the LA drivers took that as a sign that it was a good day to drive even faster than normal. On my way home from a hotel near the Los Angeles airport where I was reading ordination exams for our denomination, the freeway was crowded, as always. But wonder of wonders, the traffic moved along fairly well . . . UNTIL . . . I got closer to home, nearly to the junction between Fwy 5 and 14, and everything came to a stop!! It took two hours to go about 3-1/2 miles -- two accidents were on the side of the freeway only about 400 yards apart. So in addition to the emergency vehicles weaving in and out of bumper to bumper traffic--always seems like a miracle to me that they can even manage to get anywhere--we had all the professional "lookey loos" who think it's the best show in town and they have to see it!! So in addition to having a fried brain from reading 37 not-really-well-written exams in three days and commenting on each answer, I was almost comatose from sitting in the car and moving 10 inches at a time, breathing car fumes, and truly coming to the conclusion that I was never going to see my hubby ever again!!

We're nearly ready to launch ourselves on our Fall 2011 Train Trek back to the East Coast, traveling to Chicago, along the Great Lakes, to Boston, then on to Portland, Maine, back to Washington, D. C. to visit some long-time friends, then on to Atlanta (more long time friends), to Alabama to visit with daughter #1, then to New Orleans where we will veg out for a couple of days, back to Chicago and two days down time, and then home on the Amtrak California Zephr to Northern California and south on the Amtrak Capitol Corridor to Bakersfield where we will take an Amtrak bus to Newhall, pick up our car, and literally race down Fwy 405 to attend an election seminar for election workers for the November 8 election. Restful, huh?? My hubby is a train nut, and he is so excited because he will be riding on 5 -- get that? 5 trains he has never ridden on ever before. Be still my foolish heart!!

So as I am able to get internet access during the next month, I will post some pics and info about where we are traveling. Until then, enjoy the cooler weather and we hope that all of us who need the rain will continue to be blessed.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Friends: Our Greatest Treasure!

Hubby and I have been working to finalize the arrangements for a cross-country train trek that he and I will be taking in mid-October when during which we will be visiting with two families who have been friends for over forty years. Actually, we all served together back in the late 1950's-early 1960's when we all were stationed in Berlin, Germany. We were a part of what was then referred to as the "German-American Community" and worked in a setting that was not segregated from the German establishments around the various military offices. It was a very unique setting and we had wonderful opportunities to get to know people we would ordinarily not have met. Planning this trip has sort of turned our thoughts back to those days, made both hubby and I realize that we have encountered some very special people in our life, many of whom we have had to bid farewell or whose lives have taken them in different directions.

Added to the remembrances engendered by all this trip planning is some thought brought on by a discussion I had with a local friend about holding grudges. I guess the direction of our thought was along the lines of: "What is really most important? Holding the grudge or keeping the friend?" I found it a question I hadn't considered often in recent years. As one who really doesn't hold grudges, I haven't thought much about what really is going on. But I have realized in recent days that two of my really good friends are mad at each other and, in my humble opinion, are holding grudges about really silly stuff. Obviously, it isn't silly to the two of them, but really, is the grudge so important that they are willing to sacrifice a long-time friendship so they can hold on to their particular "take" on a given situation? I'm worried about them, and yet I know I have to stay out of their way.

This, of course, has moved me on to thinking about the value of friends in my life. I am presently counseling with a lady who seems to have a talent for choosing people as friends and acquaintances who are absolutely toxic for her. They continually disappoint her and have, in fact, had some destructive influence on her and her life. She is so needy, and so lonely. Made me realize just how precious to me my friends have been throughout my life. Thanks to Facebook I have been able to connect with some friends of the past (although their lives are so different now and we really don't have nearly as much to share these days). I will always treasure the times we spent together. I choose to believe that they were there when I needed them, and hopefully, I met a need in their life as well.

Of course, I also remembered people I thought of as "friends" and realized later on that they were acquaintances or people I worked with, but that they had not investment in my life as a true friend would have. Those experiences taught me a lot about being insightful about the people in my daily life--are they co-workers I value but don't have much to do with my life outside of my job? And I realized that the number of true friends I have had in the past and have now are a much smaller number than I first assumed. All the more reason to treasure the true friends I have.

Lastly, I can't have any commentary on "friends" without acknowledging my very best friend who happens to also be my hubby of many decades. He has stayed with me through thick and thin, through kid troubles, money troubles, job troubles, and with his irrepressible sense of humor, made me laugh when I least felt like doing so. I am truly blessed to have him in my life.

Hang on to your friends . . . they are our greatest treasure!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When Is The Pain Going To End? "Becoming Three" by Cameron Dane

Deputy Jace Maxwell looks out for Sarah Tennison, and wants her. Although the fiery feisty woman is a friend, he knows he can’t have her. Because as much as he craves Sarah, he also lives with a secret, fierce attraction for men. And Sarah just won't understand.

Sarah has suppressed her love for Jace, knowing he only sees her as a chore. Enter cowboy Jasper Simmons. Jasper is as sweet and gentle as Jace is hard. Sarah tries to keep both men separate in her mind, but can’t stop fantasizing about being tangled and sweaty in bed with both of them.

When Jasper finds a dead woman nailed to a tree, he is thrown into contact with Jace. The proximity unearths an attraction neither of them had felt before. Seeing Jace with Jasper in an emotion-filled situation gets Sarah wondering if her roommate is keeping secrets. Then Jasper admits to Sarah he once had a crush on another man, Jace suddenly kisses her in a shocking lapse of control, and suddenly Sarah's fantasies are taking on a vivid reality. Will sweet, awkward Jasper be the key to two becoming three?

This novel is the 6th book in a series and the majority of the novels are M/M stories. However, the author has brought other romantic relational configurations into the saga of the Hawkins Ranch which figures prominently in connecting all the characters throughout these stories. The other consistent ingredient is that all the characters are either involved in ranching or law enforcement. So it is in this story. This novel was released in 2009, but I encountered it recently and found it to be a compelling read.

Both the male characters in this story are very masculine, especially Jace who is alpha in his way of relating to both men and women. His relationship with Sarah is very complicated since Sarah's brother, presently serving in the military in the Middle East, really "gave" Sarah into Jace's care and protection when he was deployed. Now it has been a number of years, Sarah has grown into a mature, sexy, strong-minded woman, and Jace is having a very difficult time maintaining the "big brother" relationship with her.

Along comes Jasper, a kind-hearted, caring, gentle but strong-minded man who fell for Sarah when she was just 18 years old. Now, four years later, Jasper feels he can make his move. He has issues of feeling unworthy because of his roots, his lack of superior education and talking skills, as well as a brother who is incarcerated for rape. Yet his heart has belonged to Sarah for so long and he knows that her attraction to him is of long standing and such that he is confident that they have something special brewing.

This is a story of discovery and growth, of coming to terms with one's own issues and acknowledging oneself honestly in all the facets of being--inner strength, comfortable in one's skin, sexual orientation, etc. For Jace, he knows he needs to be in a multiple partner relationship but he has been deeply hurt by couples who welcome him initially and then discard him in the end. He is bi-sexual but has kept his "secret" from anyone in his small community. Keeping all this important stuff about himself under wraps has spawned lots and lots of tension that has impacted his relationships. For Jasper, he struggles with feeling good about his abilities, his growth past his feelings of inferiority, moving forward after some poor adolescent choices, and acknowledging that he is "good enough" to be Sarah's lover. For Sarah, she has had to face her attraction to Jasper but she also knows that Jace is important to her in a romantic way. She also has to find a way to move Jace away from the "big brother" feelings so that he can be open about his feelings for her.

This is also a story that contains a parallel murder mystery involving a serial killer and one that has invaded their small community. Jasper finds the first body, nailed to a tree in a back pasture on the Hawkins Ranch, reminiscent of a crucifixion. Ultimately suspicion falls on almost everyone involved with the Ranch and most of the town's citizens. As a sheriff's deputy, Jace is also deeply involved in the investigation. Jasper's brother, the rat-fink nasty guy who has always lorded it over Jasper and who is now, once again, attempting to use Jasper & Sarah's romance--threatening to do harm to Sarah--as a means of blackmail and such. So this entire murder mystery story line adds a good deal of complicated, messy factors into the story, and I, for one, think it just makes the novel a whole lot better.

The real issue, though, is the way these three people discover that their mutual attraction can be forged into a relationship that will meet all their needs. It is tense, hot, sexy, and very revealing as the layers of propriety are peeled away and each of these three must make some critical decisions about their future as a person and as a part of this triad. They all struggle, and that struggle is the core of the story. It is almost as if everything else swirls around the central action which is the almost inevitable way these three come together. But don't get me wrong--it isn't smooth, easy, or simplistic. Lots of heavy emotion, lots of self-doubt, lots of worry about the social ramifications, lots of concern each carried around over how they are perceived by each other and the wider community. It's a messy story, but let's face it--life is messy!

I first read Cameron Dane when I bought Ride, the fourth novel in this series about the town sheriff and his compelling attraction to a woman who was a semi-professional bull rider. Boy did he struggle with the whole idea of a woman involved in that part of Rodeo. Liking that book a whole lot led me to this present novel and I am delighted to have found it. I think this author--who writes lots and lots of M/M novels--has managed to translate her considerable understanding of human nature and relationships into engaging stories. She also manages to write the love scenes in such a way that they are not contrived--as if the story makes opportunities for sex--but rather allows the sex to be a natural outflow of the story and the relationships.

All in all--this is a really terrific book and one that is on my favorites list. I give it a rating of 4.25 out of 5.