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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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REVIEW:  Wild Ones by Kristine Wyllys

REVIEW: Wild Ones by Kristine Wyllys

Wild Ones Kristine Wyllys

Dear Ms. Wyllys:

When MinnChica from The Bookpushers recommended this book to me, I admit a lot of reluctance. She said it was dark and gritty. Most of the dark and gritty books I’ve read lately have featured heroes who are criminals and into humiliating the heroine and I just was not up for that. Fortunately this book was none of those things but it was dark, gritty, and different.

Bri Martin runs away from home during her senior year when her alcoholic father mistakes Bri for her prostitute mother and makes a pass. Maybe if Bri’s older brother had stuck around, but Bri had been left alone to defend herself–something she simultaneously resents and understands. Five years later, Bri is serving drinks in a basement bar called Duke’s, a fake speakeasy that is described as a “lighthouse in the middle of the darkness.”

“The bar was a lighthouse in the middle of the darkness, shining like a beacon of hope and sweet promises. The lights stayed on above the bartenders for practical purposes—no one would appreciate a watered-down Long Island—but the effect was still a little romantic, in a drunken, broken kind of way. It was fitting, symbolic even. Because that was the kind of people that tended to frequent Duke’s. Broken drunks”

Into Duke comes Luke Turner whom Bri mentally names “Dark and Brooding”. There’s a connection between the two of them that she’s unsure about but later when Bri is mugged and Turner saves her, she recognizes the connection as lust. Initially Bri tries to keep it to lust only particularly when Luke’s profession is revealed. He’s a boxer training for the legit circuit but paying off debts by fighting illegally and providing muscle for a local criminal person, Bri’s boss and owner of Duke’s. Bri’s abusive father was the same–a boxer and when she goes to Luke’s first fight, she’s assailed with the memory of what it felt like when she sat in chairs like this squished between her mother and Christian, her feet never quite touching the ground. She’s full of conflicting emotions–caught up in the adrenaline of the fight but hating it as well.

There’s a certain twenties gangster feel to the story, particularly with the owner of Duke’s and Bri’s all smart mouth, high heels, and low simmering anger. She’s got a lot to be angry about given her upbringing and she’s challenging Luke at every juncture. He doesn’t hesitate in giving back in terms of verbal assaults either. Neither of them are probably g0ing to win partner of the year, but it’s easy to see how crazy they are for each other.

Brie is afraid of becoming her mother which is what she’s sure will happen if she allows Luke to be a permanent part of her life. Many of the intimate encounters between Brie and Luke stem from an angry passion. They fight (almost part of their foreplay) and then crash into each other. (This was actually a description used three times and that was probably two times too many) The energy of the story was crackling and I was engaged on every page. Even the love scenes had a certain grittiness to them, the language used different than others in some way even though the words were similar.

“He slammed me down hard and I was soaring, bowing back into an almost unnatural shape, free-falling and unable to breathe. He was still pounding into me, or maybe pounding me onto him, but it was blurry through the flames licking me, burrowing into my skin and igniting my bones. When I started to come down, he angled his hips, hitting a spot deep inside me that had me hissing and spitting like a savage cat.”

The story is told through Brie’s point of view but you get plenty of Luke. He’s incredibly possessive but Brie’s such a strong character that it is well balanced. The descriptions were so rich that I felt like I could visualize the story, as if it were a movie.

Now for the triggers. In the book, Brie is the subject of physical (not sexual) violence more than once. That might be problematic for readers. She hits Luke (which is about as successful as hitting a brick wall) and the action probably turns Luke on more than anything.

Originally I was going to give this book a B because I felt that it was short and could have used another chapter but in the end I didn’t know if that was fair. What I read was B+ worthy.

Best regards,

Jane

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