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The Rancher’s Homecoming–inspiration on a Montana ranch

The Rancher’s Homecoming

by Anna J. Stewart

The Rancher's HomecomingWhat a great final book in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers series! Anna J. Stewart has the job of continuing the story and finalizing this series in her book The Rancher’s Homecoming. Stewart does a fantastic job with both tasks.

Chance Blackwell considers himself the black sheep of the Blackwell family because he never enjoyed riding horses (blasphemy on a ranch!), he loves music, and he eloped with the foreman’s daughter, hoping never to return. Life is full of surprises, however, and Chance’s wife, Maura, passes away from cancer leaving him with a hole in his heart and an adorable preschooler, and without  an inspiration for his songs. His grandfather, Big E, continues to manipulate behind the scenes, and Chance is forced to return to Falcon Creek to cast the deciding vote on the sale of the ranch.

The story moves quickly ahead while the reader gets glimpses into the past to see reasons for various characters’ actions. The relationship between Chance and Katie, his wife’s sister, who is also the acting foreman of the ranch, becomes complicated. The always likable sister-in-laws band together to try to make things better on several fronts. Will Big E ever explain himself? Has he changed? What influence does he have over Katie? Can the Blackwell brothers trust her? Should Chance vote to sell, hurting Ethan and Ty, or vote to retain the property, hurting Ben and Jon? Life is complicated, and so is the plot of The Rancher’s Homecoming.

This book is another in the series that lives up to its “heartwarming” moniker. Interesting characters, beautiful Montana setting, and a nice balance between introspection and action combine to make this a great read. If you haven’t read this series yet, I strongly recommend you put it on your TBR list for 2019!

I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Anna J. Stewart, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #5 in Return of the Blackwell Brothers but will work as a standalone because of brief explanations of characters and past events as the book progresses

Publication:   December 1, 2018—Harlequin Publishing

Memorable Lines:

There was nothing for him here. Nothing except bitter memories of a place where he never belonged and a family he’d never fit into. Forget being a square peg in a round hole. For Chance, he’d always felt like a banjo in an orchestra.

The melody found itself, as it always did, skipping and hopping its way through his mind like stones across a still lake.

The late-summer air brushed over them, warm and welcoming, as the river rushed beyond them and meandered through Blackwell land as easily as a bee to its hive.

“Don’t ever let anyone tell you libraries aren’t important. It’s where our dreams wait to be discovered.”

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The Christmas Company–modern-day Scrooge

The Christmas Company

by Alys Murray

The Christmas CompanyI really wanted to like The Christmas Company by Alys Murray. I anticipated a spectacular Christmas read. This book is a modern day version of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, the quintessential Christmas tale for many. It is published by Hallmark; how could it be less than a really good Christmas romance?

A whole town’s livelihood is built around Christmas until its benefactor passes away leaving his company in the hands of a Scrooge-like nephew.  Kate has volunteered or worked for the Christmas Company since she was seven years old. With no mother and an alcoholic father, the Christmas Company became Kate’s family, and Christmas became part of her being. When Clark Woodward shuts down the festivities the day before Christmas Eve, Kate makes it her mission to get him to change his mind. 

Alys Murray has a good setup for her plot. This book never captured my imagination, however. I didn’t find the characters particularly appealing. The timeline of events was confusing, as was the way the decorations were taken down, moved, and put back up by people who had just been told they were fired. Why didn’t anyone appeal to Clark’s business sense? The town had spent a year and a lot of money preparing for the Christmas events. This was their opportunity to make at least some of it back for the company. Why waste the time and money already put into the event when there could be some return on the investment if the festivities could proceed for three more days? What happened to visitors who were surely expected to participate?

Clark and Kate fall in and out of love several times during the three days we observe them. Kate’s best friends, Emily and Michael, make efforts to help her, but they seem half-hearted and not very effective. My favorite scene involves an accident at the river. It is an action scene and helps develop the characters.

The Christmas Company is a satisfactory read if you are a fan of A Christmas Carol and are looking for a Christmasy diversion. If you are expecting a world changing book or the next classic to share around the tree each year, you will be disappointed.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Hallmark Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Romance

Notes: Usually the book is better than the movie, but I wonder if a good producer/director might be able to turn this around with a visual production that improves on the characters and has a good timeline.

Publication:  October 16, 2018—Hallmark Publishing

Memorable Lines:

It was clear He’d fallen out of love with Christmas—Kate didn’t believe anyone naturally disliked the holiday—because it’d been too long since he’d had a wonderful one.

Christmas was there to celebrate the birth of Christ, of course. The name said as much, but because of that, not in spite of it, Christmas had to also embody all of the goodness of humanity.

“I keep Christmas with me all year long. It’s the one time of year when I find it impossible to think the worst in people. If I pretend every day is Christmas, it makes life so much easier to live. And people so much easier to love.”

The Rancher’s Fake Fiancée–lying never pays

The Rancher’s Fake Fiancée

by Amy Vastine

The Rancher's Fake FianceeIf you have read the other books in this series, by now you know that Big E’s plan to get his grandsons to return to the Blackwell Ranch in Falcon Creek, Montana, has a chance of working. You also realize that Tyler Blackwell, one of the younger twins in the family and an advertising executive in Portland, Oregon, will be the focus of this book. What you won’t be prepared for is the bold lie he tells to try to avoid returning to the ranch. You have to smile when a character thinks “What could possibly go wrong?”

The Rancher’s Fake Fiancée by Amy Vastine is a sweet romance with a lot of relationship ups and downs along the way. All of the Blackwell brothers were affected by the death of their parents when they were young, and Tyler is no exception. He has to work through the feelings and perceptions of his ten year old self that remained with him as he matured. His fake fiancée, Hadley, is a likable character and fits in so well with the Blackwell brothers and their wives and fiancées. Unfortunately, Tyler drags Hadley into a sham relationship for his purposes, and she agrees in order to achieve a promotion that she lost due to nepotism. Of course, the truth is bound to come out, but watching it emerge is fascinating. The author uses the events in the plot to develop the characters and give the reader a chance to relate to them and their struggles. The Rancher’s Fake Fiancée lives up to expectations as a Harlequin Heartwarming romance—clean, fun, and positive. I truly didn’t want to put this book down.

As always, Big E is brought into the story in the epilogue where we get a glimpse of more of his hopefully well-intentioned machinations. If only he had shown this level of concern and understanding when the boys were growing up!

I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Amy Vastine, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #4 in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers series, but it works well as a standalone because the author is efficient in bringing readers up to date. Warning: if you do read this as a standalone, you will find yourself wanting to read the other books in this five book series!

Publication: November 1, 2018—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

Being nice to people encouraged them to be nice back. It was something her father had taught her since she was little…It didn’t matter how important someone’s job was, everyone was treated with the same respect.

There was no way he could tell the truth. This was why lying was such a bad idea. It never ended with one lie. They always multiplied until no one could remember what the truth was anymore.

He wasn’t supposed to think about her because he didn’t have to see her every day, but her void was as strong as her presence.

The Rancher’s Redemption–doing the right thing

The Rancher’s Redemption

by Melinda Curtis

The Rancher's RedemptionWhen Ben Blackwell returns from New York City to Falcon Creek to help save his brothers and the Blackwell Ranch, he plans on a quick win in a water rights issue that was supposedly resolved fire years before. He didn’t plan on battling his old friend, Rachel, now a lawyer and single mom, as she tries to gain back her family’s water rights before the Double T Ranch folds. He never planned on confronting himself and the ethics of his past.

The Ranchers’ Redemption has well developed characters in Rachel and Ben. The plot moves quickly from one event to the next. As Rachel and Ben wrestle with their own goals and with an unwilling attraction to each other, they grow and change. There is more than a little humor throughout the book. The author, Melinda Curtis, has a way with language, writing word pictures that encourage smiles, an appreciation of the modern west, and an understanding of the challenges of being a single mother with too many responsibilities. Curtis very effectively uses a technique of inserting italicized phrases and sentences to indicate what Rachel and Ben are thinking or what Big E, Ben’s grandfather, might have said to him as he was growing up or even in the current situation. Big E had a major influence on Ben, but as Ben spends time on the ranch as an adult, the influences of his deceased parents come more to the front for him. He has some ethical decisions to make about the ranch, his family, and his life. Can this big-city lawyer, hardened by losing his parents and being jilted at the altar, make decisions with his heart?

Once I started reading The Rancher’s Redemption, I didn’t want to put it down. I was amazed at the clever turns of phrase found in the first fifty pages. There are lots of flashbacks to Ben and Rachel’s childhood that were revealing as they provided insights into the driving forces for these characters’ motivations. Interesting characters, both minor and major, good writing, humor, fast moving plot with a dual focus on ranching and the law, moral dilemmas, and messy friendships—this book is a complete package. We even get to meet Zoe, Big E’s current wife. I would have liked to know more of her story to understand her motivations, but it would have been too much to ask within the confines of this book. The author made a good choice in bringing in that storyline but not developing it extensively as that would have been a distraction to the main plot.

As in the previous two books is this series, The Rancher’s Redemption ends with an epilogue that follows Big E in his mysterious and unconventional journey to make things right in his family. Once more, the brief epilogue holds a surprise and leads the reader to ponder what might happen next, eagerly anticipating the fourth book in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers.

I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Melinda Curtis, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #3 in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers. It could work as a standalone as the author throws in a lot of tidbits of information that would help a reader get up to speed on the series’ background or jog their memory on details.

Publication:  October 1, 2018—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

She marched across the ravaged carrots and torn-up grass, scrunching her eyes against the threat of tears, because ranchers didn’t cry. Not over ruined wool and silk.

Hearing Ben’s voice, the bull turned and charged the trees. He wasn’t the brightest steak-on-a-hoof. He slammed into the wrong tree.

Judge Edwards waved him to silence with more irritation than a traffic cop outside the final night of the annual rodeo in Bozeman.

The Rockies towered in the distance. There was nothing dishonest about those mountains. They were hard but they were fair, treating everyone equally. His parents had been honest and fair. But somewhere along the line, Big E had bumped Ben’s sense of right and wrong out of the black and white and into the land of the gray.

The Rancher’s Rescue–the vet comes home

The Rancher’s Rescue

by Cari Lynn Webb

The Rancher's RescueBig E (Elias Blackwell) left the Blackwell Ranch in financial difficulties, took off in his RV with his extravagant fifth wife, Zoe, and nobody in Falcon Creek nor any of his grandsons knows where he is. Big E and his mysterious disappearance is the thread that holds this “continuity series” together.

Jon, as related in The Rancher’s Twins, is the only one of the Blackwell brothers remaining in the area. He has a full time job with his own ranch, twin daughters, and a new wife. He does what he can to keep the Blackwell Ranch above water, but calls in brother Ethan, a newly graduated veterinarian, to troubleshoot various problems including the opening of the Blackwell Guest Ranch and gaining access to more of Big E’s funds to meet expenses.

In The Rancher’s Rescue, Ethan arrives in Falcon Creek and is surprised to learn that the quiet and reliable Grace Gardner is carrying his child. Both Grace and Ethan must come to grips with what a baby means to them, their career goals, and their families. Will love play a part in their decisions about the future?

The first book in this series, The Rancher’s Twins, has a lot of action and cute five year old twins. The main characters are obviously dealing with serious issues in their backgrounds. The Rancher’s Rescue is more subdued. There is less action, fewer events, and more soul searching by the main characters as they waffle back and forth without talking anything out with each other. They have important decisions to make, but they aren’t being honest with each other or themselves. At times it almost feels like Hamlet’s soliloquy on continuous repeat. At other times the plot and interaction are quite enjoyable. The last third of the book is the most interesting as other characters intervene and force a confrontation. Things begin to happen quickly and a resolution occurs. 

Author Cari Lynn Webb brings in interesting supporting characters like Katie, manager of the Blackwell Ranch; Judge Myrna Edwards, second wife of Big E—for five days; and Sarah Ashley, Grace’s sister who was Ethan’s high school sweetheart. I appreciate that there were no characters competing for Grace or Ethan romantically. That is a complication that would not have added to the plot: a triangle is not always of benefit to a romance novel.

As in the first book in the series, there is an epilogue that focuses on Big E, and this one holds a huge surprise! Although The Rancher’s Rescue is not as much of a page turner as the first book in the series, it is well-written and I enjoyed it. It also segues nicely into the next book, The Rancher’s Redemption. 

I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Cari Lynn Webb for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #2 in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers series. This could be read as a standalone, but is more enjoyable if read as part of the sequence since the town and its residents are introduced in the first book.

Publication:   September 1, 2018—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

Curse words banged around inside his mouth like popcorn kernels chipping his teeth, but he located his inner gentleman before he spewed any into the air.

That thought bothered him like an unseen puncture in a horse’s sole, that by the time it was discovered, the horse had developed an abscess that could cause severe damage and even death.

“We have to love and live for the moments now so that we have memories to carry us through later.”

The Rancher’s Twins–romance in Montana

The Rancher’s Twins

by Carol Ross

The Rancher's TwinsA combination of the tangles that both city and country life can bring, a sweet romance, a heroine trying to do what is right, adorable twins, and a handsome cowboy—that’s a winning formula for a non-formulaic Harlequin Heartwarming novel by Carol Ross. In the first book of the series, Return of the Blackwell Brothers, Ross introduces a plethora of characters and the many connections inherent in a small town. Because I was not reading an ebook version, with its built in search function, I took some notes on the characters and their relationships. It seemed like a good idea because, I assume, many of these characters will be in the books which follow in the series. (My desire for notes surely doesn’t relate to the creep of age!)

I absolutely loved The Rancher’s Twins. As an educator, I found myself nodding approval as the main character, Lydia, applies practical techniques to teaching the almost kindergarten age twin girls, known to be a handful. She verbally prepares them for events, sets expectations, and makes learning fun and active.

Lydia is running away from a situation in Philadelphia that could cost her her life. Jon Blackwell is expecting a ranch-experienced nanny. When a city girl arrives on his doorstep, he can’t help seeing her through the distortion of pain left by his ex-wife. Lydia has no expectations of, or desire for, romance; she just wants safety and anonymity temporarily in Montana.

I kept turning pages in this book as fast as I could with some “oohs” and “ahs,” lots of nodding and smiles, a few chuckles, and, at the end, a few tears. Lydia is strong and nice and quite capable in many areas. What she doesn’t know, she is willing to learn. I never got bored watching Lydia grow into her position on the ranch and interact selflessly with her new acquaintances in town. Meanwhile, her boss, rancher Jon Blackwell, needs to come to grips with his own emotions as he decides whether or not to ask Lydia to stay on as nanny after a two-week trial period. As the storyline progresses we learn the backgrounds of Jon and Lydia that helped shape their characters.

I highly recommend The Rancher’s Twins and am looking forward to reading the next book in this series: The Rancher’s Rescue by Cari Lynn Webb. Just thinking about The Rancher’s Twins makes me smile. In this rough and tumble, stressful world, I think that is awesome!

I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Carol Ross, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. Thanks to Laurie at Cozynookbks (https://cozynookbks.wordpress.com) for recommending Harlequin Heartwarming books and connecting me with the authors of this series.

  2. Clean in terms of language and sex; the romance is not syrupy. 

Publication:  August 1, 2018—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

He knew it was far from poetic, but he and the girls were like the parched ground after a long drought, eager and hungry to soak up every bit of life-giving water they could get. And this nanny… This nanny was the rain.

Wrangling a pair of out-of-control twins and sparring with their irritable father seemed like a cake-walk compared to what she was running from.

“…hurricane-force winds don’t blow as fast as gossip in this town.” 

Return of the Blackwell Brothers

 

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Join me as I fulfill a commitment to the five authors of the books in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers series to read and review the series by the end of 2018. The deadline is close, there is no penalty if I don’t achieve success, and it is a fun task I look forward to.

I have questions as I go into this reading. Will five different authors be able to maintain continuity in the plot? How much will the characters overlap? Will the authors try to maintain the same style or will they branch out on their own? I don’t ask these questions with one right answer in mind. I am open to watching the series play out according to the authors’ designs.

This series is from a line of Harlequin books called Heartwarming and they are advertised as “wholesome, tender romances.” I don’t appreciate steamy, erotic writing or psychological thrillers. I like books that are engaging, well-written, and within my comfort zone in regards to content and language. I will be looking at these books from that perspective as well as the usual—plot, characters, setting, pace, etc.

As always, thanks for reading my blog and sharing your opinions as well.

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