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Carla Kelly

REVIEW:  The Wedding Ring Quest by Carla Kelly

REVIEW: The Wedding Ring Quest by Carla Kelly

wedding-ring-quest

“Searching for a ring…finding a family!

Penniless Mary Rennie knows she’s lucky to have a home with relatives in Edinburgh, but she does crave more excitement in her life. So when her cousin’s ring is lost in one of several fruitcakes heading around the country as gifts, Mary seizes the chance for adventure.

When widowed captain Ross Rennie and his son meet Mary in a coaching inn, they take her under their wing. After years of battling Napoleon, Ross’s soul is war weary, but Mary’s warmth and humor touch him deep inside. Soon, he’s in the most heart-stopping situation of his life—considering a wedding-ring quest of his own!”

Dear Ms. Kelly,

I totally agree with you about this cover. Instead of winter travel in a post chaise, we have a young buck (with both legs) who looks as he and a giddy heroine are about to set off on a London to Brighton wagered race. And where’s Nathan? Ah, Harlequin covers, you gotta love them.

When I saw the (incorrect) cover and read the blurb, I was excited that the book was a Regency. I do love your American frontier westerns but your Regencies are what I started with and reading one feels like coming home. In a way, the book has a lot of similarities with past Kelly books. It’s a Regency road romance featuring likeable if slightly downtrodden characters one of whom is a military man. There is a degree of instant attraction between Ross and Mary though neither is going to act on it for various reasons. The reason for the “Quest” is slightly silly, TBH, but one about which I can shrug and say, “why not” and “I’ve read more contrived plot premises than this before.” In the end, it gets our couple together, on the road and with time to start their romance.

The trip itself is fun to watch though a journey from the Scottish border through York and back through a Regency winter was probably no picnic. Bad inns, cold weather and a vindictive slacker from Ross’s past bog them down slightly but through it all, they manage to maintain their good cheer if not dry handkerchiefs. Yes, tears abound as the trip turns into far more than tracking down a lost ring.

Mary and Ross are both at a crossroads in life though neither actually realizes it. Mary has lived her adult life with relatives who care for her and treat her fairly well but in all honesty, she now begins to see her future spooling out in front of her with little variation or chance for change. Ross has danced to Boney’s tune as have most British military men for the past twenty years and though he loves the Navy and life at sea, the things and relationships he missed on land are adding up. An unintended side trip Mary engineers serves to show Ross both the cost of the life he’s lead and how much he can bring comfort to the people the butcher’s bill have left behind.

The people they meet along the way help Mary and Ross make decisions about themselves and spur the actions they take. I did think the Rennies’ initial easy camaraderie and exchange of information was fast but even more so is when they spill the whole story to complete strangers – my that York one was record time even for today’s “tell everyone your life story the 15th second that you know them.” I had thought this more an American thing than something that – even today – is common in the UK.

Things were going along well, feelings were being felt – though Ross needed a good knock upside his head for the sometimes thoughtless comments he’d make to Mary about his “perfect woman” – until a point when Ross loses it after he decides Mary is bamming them about her trip. Why? It seemed out of character for him even as a post captain who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He’s instantly repentant but thank goodness the postilions and Nathan give him quiet hell and Mary Rennie proves her bona fides and lack of pettiness when she doesn’t backhand him. Though he deserved it.

The next section of the book is quietly wonderful. I felt much more comfortable with the extra months at end of fruitcake journey that allowed for the resolution of everyone’s business. After returning to Edinburgh, Mary stands her ground with her family and manages to get her way. Her adventure shows her that she’s not going to be content with her lot of sitting in Wapping Street for the rest of her life. Ross’s questions to her about what she could do with her future has given her the courage to think about changing it for what she wants and she discovers she enjoys making her own decisions.

Meanwhile Ross thinks long and hard about his own future and his relationship with his son before having to finish up what his “employer” restarted after escaping from Elba. He also starts to face what the past twenty years have done to him as a person and if he can find his way to a future. His “almost” action seemed a bit melodramatic for the way his character had been shown up til then but on second thought, this seems to be an issue for a lot of military men.

When Ross finally makes his move and goes after what he wants, I was pleased that Mary stuck to her guns about earning her own money, emigrating and making up her mind about marrying Ross even though she loved him. Her hesitation to “say yes” is with good cause and not just because he’s not said the three magic words. She’s convinced that he’s the kind of man who lives for danger and the thrills of combat and command. She thinks she has nothing to offer him that would take the place of this and it’s not until all this is settled that they’re ready for their HEA and it’s not until Ross has convinced her about how much she adds to his life that she changes her mind.

At first glance, this might sound like just another light and frothy Regency. But upon closer inspection, it’s much deeper and delves into the issues facing an older, unmarried woman of the day and an almost retired lifelong military man of any era. It does get a little sappy at times but smartens back up and allows a sufficient amount of time, thought and effort to go into this relationship to convince me that it will last. B-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The Double Cross (The Spanish Brand Series) by Carla Kelly

REVIEW: The Double Cross (The Spanish Brand Series) by Carla...

double-cross

The year is 1780, and Marco Mondragón is a brand inspector in the royal Spanish colony of New Mexico. A widower and rancher, Marco lives on the edge of Comanchería, the domain of the fierce Comanche. Each autumn, he takes cattle and wool, and his district’s records of livestock transactions to the governor in Santa Fe. He is dedicated, conscientious and lonely.

This year, he is looking for a little dog to keep his feet warm through cold winter nights. He finds a yellow dog but also meets a young, blue-eyed beauty named Paloma Vega. Paloma is under the thumb of relatives who might have stolen a brand belonging to Paloma’s parents, dead in a Comanche raid. As a brand inspector, Marco has every right to be suspicious of brand thieves. If Marco has anything to do with it, Paloma’s fortunes are about to change.

Meanwhile, Marco has other challenges to contend with. An elderly ranchero named Joaquin Muñoz has set in motion events that involve the ever-dangerous Comanches and threaten the uneasy peace of Marco’s jurisdiction. Set against the mountains and high plains of northeastern New Mexico during the decline of Spanish power in the New World, The Double Cross is a story of loss and love regained, at a time when honor went hand in glove with bravery, and danger was never far away.

Dear Ms Kelly,

When I heard that your latest project was going to be a book set in 1780 in New Mexico, I was excited. I began reading your Regencies first but your westerns have always proved to be among my favorites and since the readers at DA are looking for something other than the usual settings, reading it for my next book seemed a great idea.

Brava for having mainly Latino leads and secondary characters in a setting little used in romances – 1780 pre-gringo New Mexico. There is also a sympathetic Kwahadi Comanche character who is not either a villain or a Noble Red Man stereotype. Lots of the secondary characters are priests which makes sense in a world where religion and faith are inculcated from birth and central in the lives of the inhabitants. Marco and Paloma don’t just give lip service to the Church, they are faithful worshipers who pray daily, adhere to the tenants of Catholicism and really mean it.

There seem to be two kinds of Kelly characters – the good ones and the evil ones. You usually have very little gray. I have to be honest and say that here even when some shading is added to a character, I don’t always truly feel it. Paloma is treated badly by her relations but she confounds her husband and another person when she expresses ultimate sympathy for how poorly her cousin was raised and the challenges this person faces in her new life on the frontier. Paloma has good reason to fear Comanches but after a brief period of hesitancy on her part to help one, she soon seems to become his nurse and advocate. A few references are made about how she wishes Toshua would just leave but they seem more lip service.

Still, I don’t mind that these characters are not too different from your usual ones. They aren’t. But I like reading about nice people who find love amidst their angst and issues. The main difference I find are the settings used and the way they’re used. By that I mean this is a western but not a 19th century American frontier western. The book also focuses on things new to me such as Marco’s position as Juez de campo which earns him the de facto role as lawman of the area. I’m curious as to whether or not the description of Marco’s hacienda matches an actual one of the time. Reading about its construction and the 24/7 safety precautions carried out, I really got a feel for the fear of Comanche raids under which these people lived.

Marco is a man scared by the tragic loss of his wife and children to disease. As such he’s put off remarrying for eight years. When he sees Paloma, he begins to just think about the possibility which I like much better than having him suddenly be ready to jump right into marriage. Paloma has almost given up all hope of a family of her own as she has no dowry and has reached the decrepit old age of (gasp) eighteen. Thank you for making the point that women of this age expected to marry young and including it in the story.

Also bravo that Marco is a man who likes to see a little meat on his heroine’s bones. He’s not all ‘ooh, she’s sylph-ish and slender’ he’s ‘let’s get some weight on her and fill her out.’ There’s lots of sex compared to your old Regencies. These two are like rabbits! The sex though seems to mean something to each of them and serves to bring them closer as a married couple rather than just being perfunctory.

I’m not sure about all the Comanche information. I didn’t think they ever ate dog – not that this happens here. I also wasn’t sure how a warrior would ever remain a slave but the fact that he’s apparently older and has been cast out by the tribe helps me believe it.

I saw somewhere that you hope for this to become a series. When I started it, I hoped that the book would be complete on it’s own rather than ending with untied plot threads. After finishing it, I believe you’ve left yourself some issues to revisit and possibly resolve but that the book can also stand on its own. I would enjoy coming back again to see more of these characters and especially discover if Paloma gets her heart’s wish. B

~Jayne

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