Review originally posted at Reader's Edyn:
readersedyn (dot) blogspot (dot) com
My overall experience with this book was enjoyable. I have said quite a lot recently that at times I feel completely swamped with the level of sex in the romance novels I read. Seems like the farther the authors push it, the higher they raise the fence. Like, who can break through the next level of taboo and make it still readable. And ... I also have friends and family that are not as *cough* how do I say this ... open-minded as I am *coughs* with the material they read. It is refreshing to be able to recommend stories to those whom I know would not be able to handle certain ... errr ... stories otherwise.
That said, I can definitely recommend this book to everyone. There is no foul language and such a limited hint of sex that I cannot imagine anyone being offended by the contents of any of the stories. All stories are Texas-themed historical romance. Who doesn't love the cowboy that finally finds his other half, while still remaining the tough protector that everyone else sees him as? Not me! While I have not had the pleasure of reading any of these authors before, I am thankful that I was allowed a taste of all four of them and their writing styles. I have a love/dislike relationship with anthologies. I love them because they are, in a way, a sampler of multiple authors. You can take a glimpse into the writing style of many authors within one book. Rather than buying four separate books and not knowing if you will be satisfied or not, you can take a short cut of sorts through anthologies. But what I object to about anthologies are that they oftentimes lack the components of a really good book because the stories are so short. You just don't have enough time to get to know the characters in depth and still experience the conflict prior to the happily-ever-after.
However, having no prior knowledge of these authors, I can honestly say that I enjoyed all of the stories for different reasons. One of the stories I really enjoyed, but the ending ruined it for me. For the most part, this is an anthology that worked and I am very pleased to have spent my time reading it. I will break down each story individually with a quick summary, followed by my personal thoughts on the story.
The Valentine Curse
Brody is a Yank, often shunned by the other ranch hands simply because he used to play for the wrong side. But hidden within their mirth is a level of unspoken respect for his talent healing animals. Twice made a widow, Valerie now has a new stigma; a curse said to afflict and man who comes near her. When the two meet, they get along well and part ways. Eventually their paths cross again and Valerie offers Brody a proposal he can't refuse: one year married, living on her ranch to try and make it thrive. If the two aren't suited, they will part ways amicably. But this woman who has never known a real marriage has never known the love of a good man and both just might end up finding happiness within their business arrangement/marriage.
I really loved this story. Brody is a good guy, plain and simple. Valerie is a hard-working woman who has given up on her hopes and dreams of a loving marriage and children. While her lack of affection within her first two marriages is sad, I enjoyed how her knowledge deficiency in some areas worked to Brody's benefit. He eventually wages an all out war for their future. Either it will work and they will begin a wonderful future together, or he could ultimately push her away if she is not ready to accept him. The "button deal" was pretty clever and my favorite part of the story. Toward the end of the story, you can't help but want to push these two together and help them find their happy-ever-after a bit sooner. Jodi Thomas will be a name I will look to in the future.
Rue Ann and Logan. The poor dears are victims of a great misunderstanding and possibly a rather large conspiracy to keep them apart. They had planned a future together until one fateful day when it all came crashing down. Rue Ann leaves to complete school, but eventually returns for her impending wedding to another. This, of course, gives both Logan and Rue Ann the opportunity to seek out answers to many questions that have plagued the two for the last couple of years. But will they get up the gumption to confront each other before Rue Ann has pledged her life to another?
While I enjoyed this story, I felt like I had read it before. The plot is not new. It is possible that it could have had the opportunity to distinguish itself as unique in its own way as a full-length novel, but not within the shorter length of a novella. Rue Ann's father plays a role within the conspiracy, but I felt that he gives in just a bit too easily toward the conclusion. For all of the lengths that he went to in the conspiracy, I would have expected a much different outcome for him. Complaints aside, I still found this story entertaining. Above all, it is a sweet Texas romance and it is so very hard to go wrong with such a genre. Ultimately, I had fun getting to know Rue Ann and Logan and was very much entertained by the antics of the elder sisters Miss Charlotte and Miss Emily.
Loving Miss Laurel
Hunter has been a busy man for the last 8 years. He has made his own fortune and successfully built a profitable ranch; not including the businesses in town he has his hands in. Laurel has been gone during this time and has only just returned to town at her Uncle's request; an odd request considering he has not kept in contact with her since sending her off to school all of those years ago. But curiosity gets the better of her and she comes back and runs right into Hunter. The two had been friends prior to her hasty departure and quickly their attraction ignites a deep longing for one another. But Laurel is shrouded in mystery from her past to the present and Hunter has a nagging feeling that he needs to get to the bottom of it. That feeling is intensified ten-fold when he discovers the danger that Laurel is in.
I started out absolutely loving this story. It was a little bit longer than the first two and consequently had a slightly better developed plot line as can be the case as stories lengthen. I liked that Hunter basically rose from the ashes to become a successful businessman, rancher, and mayor. I wasn't as thrilled with Laurel because she is presented as an intelligent, strong young woman, but is sometimes given lesser characteristics. For instance, she struggles to grasp her Uncle's involvement in some nefarious dealings despite his personality and while she obviously fears him, she stands up to him which presents a bit of a contradiction. But I liked her paired with Hunter. And irritation aside, I read straight through the story quickly, enjoying the tale unfold before my eyes. Until the end. I wanted to rip the pages out and stomp on them. It finished so fast and then was tied up all neat and tidy in a few short sentences. And to add injury to insult an author's note is added which does nothing to make me feel any better about the ending and in fact could actually spur questions that now need an answer. Uppermost in my mind, what the heck happens next? There is a huge void of nothingness between the rapid ending and the author's note. Accordingly, I have a love/hate relationship with this particular story.
Noah is the town doctor who has followed in his father's footsteps. High in demand for more than his doctoring skills, Noah is also the object that many of the single ladies of the town have set their cap for. But Noah is very busy tending to his patients and has little time left for socializing. JoEmma is wheelchair-bound since a bout with scarlet fever. Afraid of not being able to obtain her greatest desires, she has hidden in the shadow of her illness. While maintaining a positive attitude toward life in general, she has rejected the idea of pushing herself beyond the capability of her exhausted heart and stops trying to strengthen her legs so that she can walk again. But JoEmma has hidden her feelings for Noah for a number of years; ever since they were children and he rescued her from a fall, carrying her all the way home. The two come together when JoEmma's love bird escapes and makes her way to Noah's love bird, becoming a mated pair. The birds cannot be separated and before too long it becomes apparent that the birds may well have the right idea of things.
Hands down my favorite story! This story contains every component a sweet romance should have. The depth of both main characters and even the secondary characters is amazing. I love that the storyline is outside of the box. How many main characters have you read about that start off in a wheelchair? And what better pairing than with a doctor? I very much enjoyed my time spent getting to know JoEmma, Noah, and their loved ones. Each character, even with flaws, was presented in a way that endeared me to each one. Even the sibling rivalry between JoEmma and her sister aids in enhancing the relationship dynamic between the two. Overall, this tale is adorable and you can't help but wish each character a happy ending. If Ms. Pace writes this consistently in all of her stories, then she is definitely one to keep an eye on.
(Uncorrected Proof provided by Kensington for review)