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Katie Lane

REVIEW:  Trouble In Texas by Katie Lane

REVIEW: Trouble In Texas by Katie Lane

Dear Ms. Lane:

The spirit of the Western is infused by the warmth of community in this pro sisterhood story of a romance between a spinster librarian and a wealthy Texas businessman whose spirit has been broken. I couldn’t decide if this book was subversive or trying to reinforce traditional mores of female and male behavior.

Trouble In Texas Katie LaneBranston William Cates is the oldest of the five surviving Cates siblings. He and his brother had planned on shutting down Dalton Oil, the company that keeps the town of Bramble alive. In a previous book, Billy Cates’ plans were foiled when he fell for Shirley and Branston is traveling to Bramble to attend the wedding between the two.

He takes a detour to Miss Hattie’s Henhouse, a notorious house of ill repute. His great grandfather died there and Branston half believes that the house and his grandfather’s death is responsible for the Cates’ curse. It took the life of his oldest brother, Brant’s wife and small child in a tornado, and his youngest brother is in remission from cancer. Brant’s not normally superstitious but he can’t find anything else to blame:

But if he didn’t have the curse to blame for the huge emptiness that his family’s death had created inside him, then what could he blame? There was nothing he could do about fate. And if he blamed God and renounced all faith, then he couldn’t believe in heaven. And without heaven, his wife and son would just be decaying in the hard, cold ground.

Brant’s attempt to infiltrate Hattie’s whorehouse is intercepted by three of the “hens.” Minnie, Baby, and Sunshine, are still living in Hattie’s house of ill repute that now is owned by Elizabeth Murphy, the Bramble town librarian. At the age of thirty-seven, Elizabeth is a content spinster. She’s also a virgin. (Why isn’t well explained. Nor is it explained why Brant, who misses the wedding, doesn’t immediately proceed to his brother’s new home to explain himself). Elizabeth has been raised by a “man hater” who grew up in Hattie’s henhouse when it was a working brothel. Elizabeth’s mother experience as a child and post the henhouse has led her to teach Elizabeth that men are dangerous, awful creatures. Elizabeth doesn’t exhibit any real animosity toward men in her life, more exasperation.

But her virginal status is put to the test when she encounters Brant. Minnie and her hens try to get Elizabeth in touch with her “henness” which I wasn’t sure was femininity or inner strength. Much is made of Elizabeth’s dowdy clothes and spinster status. Minnie believes that Elizabeth needs to shed more than just the prim suits and instead embrace the heritage Elizabeth has as the great granddaughter of Hattie Ladue.

The underlying message for all the characters is that life is brief and that it is better and braver to try to embrace it than to close one’s self off to avoid pain and loss. Elizabeth’s mother tried the latter course of action, eschewing men and trying to teach Elizabeth that men are the root of all evil.  Each of the hens teach Elizabeth a slightly different, more nuanced story. Some men can be evil and some can be wonderful.  The key is finding and holding on to the wonderful ones.

Brant’s love for his family, his heartache and concern over his brother, and his fear and desire for love in his life were tangible.  He and Elizabeth both have to learn to take a chance on each other and on love itself.  For all its hokey title and man titty cover, there’s a pretty good story taking place inside this book.  I did feel the “hen” part of the story was overly melodramatic and unrealistic, exaggerated for the sake of fiction with the three old ladies acting out the fan dance and partaking of liquor parties in a basement room modeled so that Austin Powers would feel at home. However, I’ll definitely be on the look out for more Katie Lane.  B-

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  Hunk for the Holidays by Katie Lane

REVIEW: Hunk for the Holidays by Katie Lane

Dear Ms. Lane,

I rarely believe in insta-love and, in general, holiday stories leave me cranky. I didn’t think I’d like this book—even the title made me smirk (although the guy on the cover is seriously hot).  But Hunk for the Holidays entertained me. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good time.

Hunk for the Holidays by Katie LaneThe beginning of your novel is almost exactly like that of Lisa Kleypas’s Suddenly You (published in 2001.) In both books, a strong-willed businesswoman hires, for the night, an escort. The man who turns up at the door is older than she expects, confident, and slightly bemused. He’s confused because he, of course, is not an escort at all, but rather a fellow business owner and, in the case of the hero of Hunk for the Holidays, the heroine’s professional competitor. The man, taken with the woman who’s mistaken him, lets her think he’s an escort and the two share a passionate evening. The setup allows for humor and lust to play out between strangers and, in both books, the premise is appealingly done.

In Hunk for the Holidays, Cassie McPherson is too busy to date. Plus, her last boyfriend was a budding cross-dresser and really, just not enough man for her. Cassie spends most of her time working for her family’s business, M&M Construction. Cassie loves the business, loves her family, but doesn’t love her job. She’d prefer to do the hands-on work of developing and building projects, but her father has her working as the firm’s in-house accountant/manager. Cassie accedes to her father’s wishes mostly because she’s afraid to confront him—he recently had a heart attack and she doesn’t want to upset him. He’s already pretty damn upset by a new, upcoming firm, Sutton Construction, owned by the very ambitious James Sutton.

James shows up at Cassie’s office—he’d a meeting there—three nights before Christmas. It’s the night of Cassie’s office Christmas party and she assumes—he is in a tux—he’s the escort she’s hired to be her date for the party. Cassie has hired quite a few escorts in the past year. She doesn’t hire them for sex but rather to keep her match-making family at bay. Usually, the men who show up are younger and do whatever she says. Cassie really likes to be in control of her life—it’s not a stretch to call her bossy. The minute James walks into her life, she starts telling him what to do.

“Are you coming?”

He tipped his head to one side. “Who are you?”

Oh, so that was it. She just hadn’t introduced herself. She laughed and held the door of the elevator. “I’m Cassie McPherson, your employer for the evening.”

He didn’t move. “My employer?”

Back to the mental deficiency theory. She tried talking slowly and clearly. “Yes, I called Elite Escorts and hired you for the evening to take me to my office Christmas party. I paid in advance, so I expect a little service here. Like maybe you getting a move on.”

His whiskey eyes twinkled, but he still didn’t move. “You’re Cassie McPherson, the daughter of Al McPherson, and you called for a male escort?”

“Right. So are you coming or do I need to get a refund?”

“Your father’s not here, I take it?”

“Not that it makes a difference, but no. He’s at home.”

He might be a simpleton, but, man, the flash of those white, even teeth and dimples were flat-out sexy. “Then I guess I’m all yours for the evening.”

James doesn’t correct Cassie because, from the moment he sees her, he’s smitten.

As soon as he realized she’d mistaken him for someone else, he should’ve introduced himself. But she surprised him. He wasn’t expecting a beautiful, dark-haired woman. He was expecting Al McPherson, the gruff man who had called him earlier in the day to set up a meeting. James had stepped off the elevator, nervous and excited about meeting one of the most respected men in the business, and was completely sideswiped by long, sexy legs and a tiny patch of red satin. Once his gaze locked on those undies, his curiosity and excitement about meeting Big Al had flown straight out the window. Along with every coherent thought he’d ever had.

Follow sexy underwear with sparkling green eyes and full, luscious lips, and he was lucky that he had remembered his name. He sure didn’t give a second thought to her father or to the Christmas party he was supposed to attend. Damn, his mind had been on penis-pilot way before his name even came up.

The two go to the party together where James—and the reader—meet Cassie’s family. They’re quite a group; her brothers are all alpha-males (one, Rory, has his own mini-love story in this book), her father is overbearing and yet likable, her great-aunt Louise—that woman likes her rum—is the best kind of busybody. James likes them all and, as the evening goes on, he realizes he really likes Cassie (it’s the beginning of insta-love). James plans to take Cassie home after the party, tell her whom he is, and get her out of her undies. Cassie ruins his plans by getting so drunk she passes out in his bed. When James wakes up in the morning, Cassie’s taken matters in hand and the two have wild happy sex. James knows he has to confess his identity, but the sex is so great and their connection so strong, he puts it off.

The story in this book takes place over just a few days and that is the novel’s greatest weakness. Two days into their relationship, Cassie and James have more drama than most couples achieve in weeks, many weeks. There are very few romances that have made me believe the lovers could fall deeply in love in just a few days and this is not one of them. But, the story is fun to read, the characters are engaging, and the prose is witty—I decided to suspend my disbelief, relax, and enjoy.

I liked Cassie and James both as independent characters and as lovers. Cassie is an unusually alpha-female for a contemporary romance. She’s unabashedly high-handed, easy to anger, and, upon occasion, rude. In the past she’s gone for guys she could rule. James is her match—not her master. He refuses to let her have all the control in their relationship but he is in no way a “my way or the highway male.” Both of them value their professions—and the companies they’ve created—tremendously and I liked how the novel dealt with the reality of them competing for bids. Ms. Lane writes dialogue and sex scenes well and I found the insta-chemistry between Cassie and James easy to believe.

I also liked the cast of characters in the novel. James’s suburban neighbors, Cassie’s family, even the random parents and kids impatiently waiting in the line to see Santa are all strongly drawn. Again, the novel’s weakness is in its length. I wanted to see more of almost everyone in the book and felt cheated at how little exposure many of the characters were given.

By the end of this too short book, Christmas has arrived (the holiday part of the book is relatively unobtrusive which worked for me), and there’s a roast beef dinner where everyone is feeling the holiday glow. This rather rushed HEA isn’t especially likely but it’s pleasant and I closed the book feeling more lighthearted than when I began. If all you want is a sexy, fun, contemporary fairy-tale, Hunk for the Holidays fits the bill. I give it a B-.

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