I read a fair number of small town series (Ruthie Knox's Camelot, Shannon Stacey's Kowalski's and Jill Shalvis' Happy Harbor series) I tend to avoid books set in farming communities. I spent five years living in the prairies of Alberta and I have learned as much as I needed to about the toils and travails of farming communities. Chance of Rain reunites former high school sweethearts, Natalie and Sawyer. Natalie looks after her Gram's diner and Sawyer left behind his father's farm for a career in the Navy. Natalie had a long-time crush on Sawyer that briefly blossomed into going steady during the last few weeks of Sawyer's senior year. Their relationship came to abrupt end when Sawyer broke up with her and left Dearling to become a Navy SEAL. Twelve years later, Sawyer is finally back in town but only temporarily, so he can fix-up and liquidate the farm he grew up in. The romance in this book really didn't work for me. Both Natalie and Sawyer keep are still deeply attracted to each other but push each other away and need other people and tropical storm to push them back toward each other. I didn't really connect with their passivity and I felt while many complicated emotional issues complicating their relationship were raised there was little resolution or direct dialogue by the characters about their issues. While the romance didn't connect with me the story of Sawyer's homecoming did. While Sawyer is actively struggling with the idea of whether he can commit to Natalie and make a go of it in Dearling, the bigger story seemed to me was whether Sawyer would wake up to realize that his hometown hadn't rejected him, but instead was waiting for him to come back and he needed to stop trying to prove himself worthy of being loved by the town, and simply accept their love. I will probably check out other books by Amber Lin as I am despite myself curious about the other residents of Dearling, such a Natalie's outrageous busy body best friend Lucy and Sawyer's banker-turned-farmhand Ian. Publication date Nov 4, 2013 Digital ARC provided for free by publisher via NetGalley
Driving Her Wild is Meg Maguire's third book set at the Wilinski's Fight Academy a MMA training gym in Boston for Harlequin's Blaze line.
In this book, Stephanie Healy recently retired from the fighting circuit has come to Wilisnski's Fight Academy as their new jujitsu trainer.
After years on the road and sick of short-term relationships Steph is looking for man who is marriage material. She wants a man different from the men she had dated all her life. She wants someone sophisticated, successful and certainly no one like Patrick Doherty, a divorced debt-ridden carpenter making ends meet as non-quite competent electrician, who is too earnest, clueless and Irish for Steph.
What I liked about this book:
In this series all the men have struggled with their working class identities and whether they are good enough for their love interests. They have only a little money in their bank accounts, taken two many blows physical and metaphysical but they have big dreams. I love that this equally true of Stephanie and Patrick in this book.
I loved watching Steph struggle with her inadvisable attraction to Patrick, and Patrick enthusiastic admiration of her. I loved how Steph's brothers and father immediately loved Patrick much to Steph's frustration. And I enjoyed checking in with Jenna, Mercer, Lindsay and Rich from the previous books, Making Him Sweat and Taking Him Down without them taking over the book.
This is not angsty book, Steph and Patrick are good people, a little down on their luck, the obstacles they face are not life-threatening, but the emotions, tenderness and frustration they feel are genuine.
I normally would have never picked up a bo0k series set in MMA gym. I haven't seen a MMA fight in my life, but when I realized that Meg Maguire is Cara McKenna, writer of some my favorite recent reads: "Unbound" and before that "After Hours" I took the chance and enjoyed these lighter, less angsty but not less emotional reads.
Publication date October 22, 2013 Digital ARC provided for free by publisher via NetGalley.
I requested the galley of this holiday themed collection because of how much I loved Mary Ann Rivers previous novella, Story Guy. I have not previously read fiction by Lisa Renee Jones or Serena Bell. Each novella in Heating up the Holidays takes on one of our fall/winter holidays.
Lisa Renee Jones novella Play with Me, takes place in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Kali Miller newly arrived in Las Vegas hustles for a job after the job she relocated for disappears. She leaps at the opportunity to become the new administrative assistant to Damion Ward the secretive and driven CEO of the Vantage Hotel and Casino (who happens to look just like Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark).
I nearly didn't finish this story, even though it started out very strong. I loved how Kali jumped right into the deep-end, trying to figure a high-stakes job and complicated boss. Sadly the story features insta-lust, and work-place romantic hijinks, a trope I rarely enjoy, and Kali and Damion made too many ridiculous decisions for me to buy into their story. I stuck it out, only to be disappointed with a rushed resolution that told more than it showed.
Mary Ann Rivers had me crying once again. Snowfall, is the story of Jenny Wright a mircobiologist facing a scary and life-changing medical diagnosis. Last spring my father was given a diagnosis similar to the one Jenny struggled to come to terms with. As Jenny wrestled to adjust, I couldn't help but think back to days I spent combing Medline for information for my father and speculating just how much this could change his life.
I loved that Rivers carefully structured this story to have the reader experience the same kind of uncertainty Jenny is facing. Most romances identify the romantic leads within a few chapters. In Snowfall who exactly she is falling for is as obscure to the reader as it is to Jenny which provided a delicious tension. I also loved that this is first and foremost Jenny's story of reclaiming her life and moving on after setback as much as it is a romance.
After Midnight, by Serena Bell opens on New Year's Eve a few minutes to midnight. Miles Shepard is having a horrible winter, under suspicion for embezzlement, he is in leave from his non-profit, has lost his fiancée, and most importantly his sense of self. He is at this party under protest, dragged there by one of his oldest friends, Owen, hundreds of miles from his home and problems. At this party he meets a sparkling Nora Hart whose joie de vivre captivates and frightens him. They share a New Year's kiss but fails to learn each other's names when they are too rapidly separated.
I thought Serena Bell did the best job of taking advantage of the conceits of its central holiday. While Snowfall starts with a mediation on Christmas and Play With Me, takes place around Thanksgiving, After Midnight is all about the promises of new beginnings and acquaintances not quite forgotten. I loved the rhythm of the dialogue and pacing of this story. Miles and Nora's reactions and decisions felt real and believable. I will be looking for Ms. Bell's work in the future.
Publication date October 28, 2013 Digital ARC provided for free by publisher via NetGalley.
Merry is on a journey, hiking through the wilds of the Scottish highlands, when she was falls sudden ill. She pushes herself back to last occupied building she saw on her way, nearly braining herself in the process. In that rustic cottage lives Rob. Rob has exiled himself from civilization to keep himself from killing himself with drink. Cranky, prickly and barely civil, he cares for Merry. Rob is deeply disturbed by her presence as it exposes his loneliness and remind him of needs and desires he has suppressed.
This is a story about letting yourself want what you want, to accept yourself for who you are. Rob is very specifically kinky, in a way that has long made him feel isolated and ashamed. He used alcohol as crutch till it took over his life. Merry overate habitually, and recently lost a hundred pounds, but not yet at ease or satisfied with her body. She struggles with the reality of how differently people treat her now. She too is trying to claim what she desires. Having internalized that she couldn't be both fat and bitch, she projected a jolly non-threatening persona. People-pleasing and self-abasing she has stuck around in unsatisfactory jobs, friendships and relationships. With Rob, she trusts herself to reach for something, and not just wish it happen.
Why I enjoyed reading it: I love the hesitant false starts. The witty and down-right mean inner voices Rob and Merry hear in their heads. I loved the tension as they try to let themselves be more exposed than they have ever before.
Cara McKenna leaves us in a place of hope that doesn't betray the real serious obstacles they face.