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REVIEW:  Baby, It’s You by Jane Graves

REVIEW: Baby, It’s You by Jane Graves

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With only the wedding dress on her back and her honeymoon luggage in the car, Kari Worthington is running away. Determined to put her controlling father, her rigidly structured life, and the uptight groom she left at the altar in her rearview mirror, she escapes to the Texas Hill country . . . and lands on a tall, dark, and gorgeous winery owner’s doorstep. All she needs is a job and a place to live until she can get back on her feet. So why is she fantasizing about losing herself in his powerful arms?

For Marc Cordero, freedom is so close he can taste it. He’s devoted his life to managing the family business and being a single dad. Now with his daughter away at college and his brother taking over the winery, Marc is ready to hop on his Harley for parts unknown-until a runaway bride bursts onto the scene. Free-spirited and tantalizingly sexy, Kari excites him like no other woman has before. But when irresistible passion turns into something more, will Marc give up his future to take a chance on love?

Dear Ms. Graves,

The blurb and what it brought to mind grabbed my attention when this book was offered to us for possible review. The idea of a runaway bride in her wedding dress made me think of “Smoky and the Bandit” with Sally Fields ending up in a car with Burt Reynolds while peeling off her wedding dress as they roar down the back roads of 4 southern states with Sheriff Buford T. Justice hot in pursuit. Okay so the book ended up having almost nothing more in common with the film but it did make me want to read it.

Well the actual book starts off great. I loved the humor, I loved the heroine, I loved the hero’s laconic way of speaking and acting which brings Kari up short – when pressed to help her out of her mud caked wedding dress with its millions of small buttons down the back Marc thinks a second and then replies that no …, no he really doesn’t have to. I loved the pet themed B&B Marc leaves Kari at and I adored Gus, the proprietor who is obviously storing up the whole encounter for the next day’s gossip sessions in this small town. I was floating on a happy cloud.

Then the cloud started raining just a little as things slow down a mite. Two one note villains appear – and really all the bad guys in the story are fairly one dimensional – but thankfully disappear soon after and never bother us again. Kari struggles to fit into a job she’s not suited for and while Marc begins to show more of his responsible side in helping her out, getting a plan for her life and dealing with her blistered feet, he’s not quite as funny to me as he goes about it. Then comes a scene that should clue in advanced Romance readers of a plot point to come. There’s a lot of talking going on among these people but not much listening.

Things then get really messy with everyone coming home to roost at various times which makes for life altering changes and seeing dreams/promises in a new light. I got mad at some of these characters. Well, I got mad at most of them but then I realized that the emotions and reactions are so realistic that my reaction is belief in what’s happening on the page rather than eye rolling. Real, strong emotions can get messy. Life is messy. Not everyone behaves well when things don’t go as they’d like, expect or think they want. So, this is good. Exasperating at times but still good.

The plot snarls get untangled quickly with the page count running out but it’s done in believable ways – Angela’s junior college plan, Daniel’s happiness at Marc finally acknowledging faith and pride in his IT accomplishments, Marc figuring out that the open road can be lonely and it’s nice to live around friendly faces who know him and whom he knows and that he’s excited about the future because he’s good at what’s about to come. Kari realizing she doesn’t want to leave Rainbow Valley – well, she’d kind of already realized that earlier. It’s a good lesson in what we think we want may not always be what we need or – even what we really want. After the book took a turn from the fantastic opening, I wasn’t sure I’d like the change but the story ended up being deeper and more realistic than it would have otherwise been. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Count on Me (Petal, Georgia series) by Lauren Dane

REVIEW: Count on Me (Petal, Georgia series) by Lauren Dane

COMCOMDear Ms. Dane:

Your Petal, Georgia series is a favorite of mine. I like small town romances when done well, and this one ties in to the Chase brothers series, which I also enjoyed. Carolina Mendoza is back in Petal sixteen years after the brutal murder of her mother and subsequent conviction of her father, who she believes to have been wrongly convicted. She’s there for two reasons, first, she wants a stronger relationship with her two younger siblings, who her mother’s well-to-do parents took custody of after her mother’s death, and she wants to clear her father’s name. Her dad died in prison, all the while proclaiming his innocence. Her siblings are much younger than her and have no real memories of their parents, as well as being influenced by their grandparents who believe with all of their hearts that Caroline’s father committed the crime.

While grocery shopping one day, Caroline reconnects with Royal Watson. Caroline and Royal went to school together although never knew each other particularly well. Royal is immediately attracted to Caroline and begins what I’d describe as a full-on charm offensive. Caroline is a little wary. She’s not looking for love, and while she’s definitely attracted to the big, handsome farmer, she’s not in Petal for that, and is reluctant to get involved with a man. In the end she agrees to dinner and finds herself rethinking her “no love” stance. Royal is funny and charming and a true southern gentleman. But Royal has an ex, Anne, who doesn’t want a relationship with Royal, but also doesn’t want him with anyone else. She’s snotty to Caroline and continues to be as Royal and Caroline begin to build a foundation for a long-term relationship. On top of that, Caroline is trying her best to rebuild a relationship both with her siblings, and her grandparents, who she left when she was a young teenager to go live with her father’s family. There’s a lot going on for her.

As word gets out that she’s trying to clear her father’s name, she find animosity directed at her from her grandparents, various town folk, and her sister’s boyfriend, who accosts her on numerous occasions. Soon, that animosity has raised to threats. Someone slashes her tires, someone shoots at her through an open office window. And as the violence escalates, Caroline and Royal must come together to keep her safe.

There are a lot of things I like about this book. I would describe Royal as a more Beta hero, which is unusual for you. He’s protective and certainly adores Caroline, but he’s not a guns ablazin’ kind of hero. He’s content to let her kick a little ass herself. Certainly, when it becomes apparent that Caroline’s life is in danger, he does go into protective mode, but he admires her smarts and strength too much to curtail it. He’s also a real southern charmer hero, which I’m a sucker for. He’s a gentleman, a tiger in the sack, and has really wonderful manners.

For her part, Caroline is strong and really intelligent. She’s got real spine without being off-putting, and there is one scene where she and Anne finally have a confrontation over Anne’s pursuit of Royal. It’s not a cat-fight by any means, but it’s a no bullshit, serious conversation. You know, the kind two grown women would have. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about your work is that your heroines are never doormats. They don’t whine, they don’t cry. They show initiative, and they handle their business. Caroline is no exception, and it immediately makes her someone who I would want to be friends with.

Where I think the story falls down a bit is clearing the father’s name. You spend about the first 2/3 of the book building the relationship between Caroline and Royal. Then the danger part of the story comes in and it all felt a bit rushed, particularly the resolution of the story. To me, there was no foundation for the killer laid, so he came out of left field and I just didn’t buy it. I wanted more of a build up, I guess.

In the end, Count on Me is a really lovely romance, featuring a to die for hero and a smart heroine who I liked very much. While the mystery/suspense part didn’t work for me as well as I would have liked, I know that Count on Me will be a book I’ll reread. Final grade: B-

Kind regards,

Kati

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