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REVIEW:  Rodeo Dreams by Sarah M Anderson

REVIEW: Rodeo Dreams by Sarah M Anderson


Love is one unpredictable ride
Ride straight to the top of the rodeo circuit—that’s June Spotted Elk’s dream. Yes, bull-riding is a man’s world, but she won’t let anyone—not even a sexy, scarred stranger—get in her way.

Seasoned bull rider Travis Younkin knows what it’s like to make it to the top—and then hit the bottom. Back in the arena to resurrect his career, he can’t afford a distraction like June. No matter how far he’ll go to protect her from the danger. No matter how deeply the stubborn and beautiful rider gets to him…

Dear Ms. Anderson,

When I saw this in our Dear Authors submissions section, something about it caught my eye. I realized it had been a while since I’d read about cowboys or bull riders and I can’t recall the last female bull rider book to cross my radar so into the reading hopper it went.

June and Travis both have very good reasons for bull riding. For Travis, it’s the only thing he really knows how to do and he’s determined to prove that he’s come back from the horrific injuries that almost took his life. June on the other hand is the up-and-comer who knows she was born to ride bulls. She also wants to prove to those who say that a woman can’t do this, that a woman can do it. Her whole life people – mainly her alcoholic father – have tried to keep her down and June sees this as a way to silence her critics and get herself and her recovering alcoholic mother off of welfare. She’s almost got her college degree in teaching courtesy of scholarships but with a season’s worth of winnings, they’ll have heat in their house on the rez this winter and go from surviving to maybe a bit of comfort.

Their first meeting isn’t memorable with June thinking Travis’s efforts to keep her off the circuit are just another person telling her she’s not good enough and Travis thinking that she’s playing for attention in a way different from the usual buckle bunnies on the hunt for riders. It takes them a while to discover that he’s only concerned for her safety and she’s serious about what she’s trying to accomplish.

Travis matches the lyric from the Garth Brooks’ song in that he’s much too young to feel as damn old as he does some days. Titanium rods and mesh hold him together, 3 long years of rehab are behind him, and his only possessions that survived the bankruptcy he had to declare because of his medical bills are a truck and beat up camper.

Meanwhile June lives out of a used Crown Vic with her dog Jeff – whom Travis calls the Hellhound – until events cause her to go undercover with two other riders trying to hide something the macho bull riders might not accept. And may I say how happy I am about these character. This is the first time that I’ve read a secondary romance like this in a Harlequin. Pooling their resources after that, it’s a step up to staying in fleabag motels. The scraping by that most of the riders do sounds legitimate as well as the risks they’re willing to take for the big purses offered to ride the ranker bulls.

The fears that Travis and June have about a relationship and each other sound reasonable too. Travis’ girlfriend abandoned him after his terrible ride and he wonders if June is merely looking to climb from his bed to someone ranked higher in the circuit standings. June, due to the double standard we women must live with, doesn’t want people thinking she’s trying to sleep her way to the top. But after some inventive storytelling – remember June’s no dummy, and tricky acting – her cousin just loves to play the tough guy, they get that worked out.

So what is the final hurdle to reach their HEA? A “mean as the devil” bull with a wicked kicking twist named No Mans Land. What looks like it might drive them apart is what actually brings them together. June is determined to help out a fellow rider the way no one bothered to help Travis in his time of need while Travis has first hand knowledge of what June will require after a ride on the wild side. They’ve learned from each other and will be there for each other and that’s about as much as I can ask of a romance book.

I thought the way that Travis and June will get their little house, married life and – hopefully in a few years – kids is inventive and realistic. And Travis is going to get a job in a field in which he’s an expert with medical insurance on top of that! Meanwhile June has proved that a poor, Indian woman can ride bulls, graduate and begin to teach.They reach their professional goals, find true love and will get to move on to rewarding careers. Plus they’re not too battered by bulls at the end. B+


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REVIEW: My Cowboy Heart by Z.A. Maxfield

REVIEW: My Cowboy Heart by Z.A. Maxfield

Dear Z.A. Maxfield,

It is exciting to me that m/m romance is (just) beginning (I believe) to become mainstream and that publishers such as Penguin, through their digital arm, Intermix, are embracing diversity.  It is early days, but I have high hopes that we’ll be seeing more m/m or GLBTQ romance from the Big 6.

Immediately before reading My Cowboy Heart, I read a gripping romantic suspense.  That may have been a mistake – there are no stalkers, serial killers or terrorists in this book. On the other hand, a change of pace is nice too.   My Cowboy Heart  is a very gentle romance, and sweet, notwithstanding the spicy sex scenes (on par with your average contemporary m/f).  There is an innocence and  charm to the tale but it is not high on action.

Malloy is the fomycowboyheartreman of the J-Bar ranch in New Mexico.  He was the foster child of ranch owners, Crandall and Emma Jenkins, having arrived at the ranch as a surly, frightened boy at the age of 14.  Now, at 32, the ranch and the Jenkins family are his life.  He is a solitary type of person and he reads as quite a bit older than his stated age.  In fact, shortly after we meet the other hero of the story, Crispin Carrasco, Crispin expresses surprise at Malloy’s relative youth.  So, it seems Malloy looks older as well.  In my head, I pegged him as about 45 and it kind of jarred when his real age came up. Perhaps Malloy is just an old soul.

The story begins when the Jenkins’ are off for an extended holiday with their daughters and their daughters’ families, to Orlando, Florida and the joys of DisneyWorld.  Just before leaving, Crandall Jenkins lets Malloy know that he’s offered a job to the nephew of a family friend, 25 year old Crispin who is out and proud and who talks a blue streak.   Crandall asks Malloy to keep an eye out for Crispin and ensure there is no trouble with the other two hands (the ranch having only a few staff over winter).

Malloy has never had any serious romantic relationships – he has had the occasional “arrangement” with local women from town but he has never before considered that he might be attracted to men.  However, soon after he meets Crispin, he’s changing his view about his heterosexual status.  It is actually a fairly gentle coming out and it doesn’t take all that long for Malloy to accept his homosexuality, even though he is forced to re-think just about everything he believed about himself.

I’d only known Crispin Carrasco for a few days, and I was already all tangled up in him. Like Crispin was light and I was a june bug, but everything I’d ever believed about myself was a window between us and thinking about him was just another way to smash myself against it.

Crispin (his Native American/Latino parents were actors and named him after the actor Crispin Glover from Back to the Future) is very open, very in touch with his emotions and, even though he has significant trauma in his own past, he has an air of innocence about him.  He is sweet and affectionate and kind of a like a big sleek puppy dog, even though he’s 25.  As for the trauma in Crispin’s past, it was really only touched upon.  It comes to light after a triggering event and he lets his temper show.  After that, events of the book kind of took over and what, if anything, Crispin was going to do about it was never really mentioned again.  I’m not sure really whether I liked it or not.  On the one hand, it was implicit acknowledgement that some things mess you up and you never really get over them, just learn (mostly) to deal.  On the other, it was kind of… left. But maybe that was a good thing.

For all that Crispin seems an open book, baring his painful past to Malloy wasn’t easy for him.  This doesn’t stop him from pushing and prying into Malloy’s childhood and asking questions about Malloy’s remaining biological family – questions Malloy is not keen on entertaining.

“Christ, Crispin. Could I just deal with being gay today? Do we have to pry open the rest of my life and fuck with that too?”

Even though it is Crispin who is the more experienced partner, Malloy is no passive participant.  When Crispin blows hot and cold (and not in the good way either – at least, not then), Malloy makes it plain he’s not about to be used:

 “I ain’t your shrink. I ain’t your teddy bear. I sure as hell ain’t gonna be your yo-yo. And if you come on to me like this, if you curl up all over me and make eyes and shit, you’d better be prepared to fuck me like the fleet’s in, or I will knock you down.”

You tell him Malloy!    (And Crispin does, oh yes he does… :D)

When tragedy strikes, Malloy’s and Crispin’s new relationship is tested.  They are “safe” at the J-Bar.  The society is fairly close and relatively non-judgemental.  Apart from some surliness from one of the hands, Jim (who has his own issues), Malloy is basically accepted for who he is by those on the ranch – including the Jenkins family.  There is a fairytale quality to the story in that respect I think.  Malloy makes decisions to be with Crispin, to be out and proud (even though he’ll never be as naturally demonstrative as Crispin is) but he doesn’t really come up against all that much opposition or homophobic judgement.  The book does acknowledge that gay cowboys aren’t really well accepted elsewhere but it’s not like that at the J-Bar.

The intimate first person POV reveals Malloy’s deep emotions even though he doesn’t like to put them on display.  He is particularly close to Crandall Jenkins and his feelings about the man and his place on the J-Bar brought me to tears more than once.

Even though the romance is fast – most of the book takes place in a very few weeks, there was a gentle pace to the novel – kind of like a languid trail ride on a lazy horse.  That’s not to say it was boring.  It was not. But it wasn’t action-packed by any stretch.

I did feel that Malloy and Crispin had found, in each other, their soul mates, even though there was no Big Moment when it was put to the test.  It was a sweet and enjoyable character-driven romance.  I give it a B-.