Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fourth of July Short: Miss Firecracker by Lorelei James

Happy Fourth of July! A little low on Fireworks this year? No worries, it's still Lorelei James weekend over here, and I've got a sexy little Fourth of July themed novella for your holiday enjoyment!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's Lorelei James, it's a Fourth of July Story, it's got sexy Blake West, and it's got a female carpenter turned reluctant beauty queen. You just can't go wrong with this as a short novella. Rough Rider fans know Blake as a cousin to the sexy McKays--Blake shows up in Colt's book Branded by Trouble to provide a little competition for India. And since Blake was attracted to the non-traditional India, we know he goes for a spunky unconventional woman. And he gets one when he takes a stint bartending for a friend in Nebraska. He's not exactly down on his luck though--he just sold the family sheep ranch, so he's got plenty of cash, but no idea what to do with his life. Miss Firecracker knows exactly what to do with HER life--she's a carpenter with her father's construction company, and she only competed for Miss Firecracker to appease her mother. A very sexy, fun romp ensues when Miss Firecracker hands her tiara and obligations off to the next queen and can finally let loose.

My only quibble with the book was that Blake causes the heroine to be late for work, more than once, and late by several HOURS once due to their nookie time. I didn't feel like this was in keeping with either of their characters. I get the need for more sexy time, but heroine is a professional woman, a foreman with a crew counting on her, and neither she nor Blake is really the kind to let passion trump that. However, despite my Debbie Downer quibbles, this is a great, fun read and I like the sense of community this carries, which is rare in a novella.

Have a Happy Fourth of July whenever you choose with this sexy treat!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Five Umbrella Friday: Chasin' Eight by Lorelei James

Cowboys and Rodeo go together with the Fourth of July like mustard and hot dogs. Just in time for the All-American Holiday, Lorelei James brings a brand new McKay Hero, perhaps her best one yet. (And for all those who have followed me into LJ fan girl status, I bought it for my nook and it's LendMe if anyone feels the need for a visit :))

Chasin' Eight (Rough Riders, #11)Chasin' Eight by Lorelei James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the things that I adore about Lorelei James is that she continues to grow and push herself with each book. I've read the entire McKay series now, and with each book, she hits a new emotional depth and complexity of characterization. It's impossible to pick a favorite of the series for me as each has such different characters and different appeal, but if I had to pick just one Lorelei James novel to recommend to a friend, this would be it.

Why? Like Cowgirls Don't Cry, this is a very "mainstream" offering from James--the kink level is turned down, no backdoor action, no over-the-top alpha man hoo-rah-rah, and a compelling emotional narrative drives the plot. However, because this is a "roadtrip" novel centering around the world of rodeo, the big McKay clan is absent for much of the book, giving this a very stand-alone feel. (Because James's other series, Blacktop Cowboys, centers around Rodeo as well, I kept expecting those characters to make cameos!)

Chase and Ava go over half the book before turning their road trip buddies/friendship into lovers--this is probably a record for a James. I kept expecting them to stop in kinky town much sooner in their journey, but I really, really enjoyed the slow build. Considering that the pair meets in the middle of the night, half-dressed, in a guest bed mix-up, it would have been easy to immediately thrust (hah!) them into a no-strings attached relationship.

But that would have been the easy way out and wouldn't have allowed either of them the kind of character growth they needed. Both Ava and Chase have spent over a decade banking on their sex appeal--he as a bull rider, she as an actress. He *should* be the baddest of the McKay Bad Boys as he's a total man whore at the opening of the story, but underneath all that bravado is a rather insecure, deeply emotional man with a heart that's not just gold but gleaming platinum.

I don't usually like "reformed rake" heroes so much b/c I have a hard time believing that they won't resume their man ho ways when the shine wears off the heroine, but I came to see Chase as less of a rake and more of a wounded warrior, wearing his prowess like a shield. I love, love, love, LOVE that Chase is shorter than Ava. This is a major plot point, and after dozens of cowboy books with 6 and a half foot hunks of Grade A Beefcake, this was refreshing and unique. What must it be like to be the shortest guy in a family of huge cowboys? And Chase is short, but he's not small--the man is B.U.I.L.T. Do you see that hot cover? Uh huh, that's pretty much exactly how he seems in the book. No extra inches needed here.

Ava *thinks* that she needs an affair with the sexy bull-rider to get herself back on track after her boyfriend breaks up with her in a very public manner to be with another man. But, what she really needs is to find out who she is stripped of all her Hollywood trappings and artificial sex appeal. I noticed that James had more "closed" or "cracked" door love scenes in this book (as well as several off-the-charts smoking ones), and I saw that as a reflection of these characters--for all that they are public people living in the media spotlight, they've created a little oasis for each other where they can truly escape.

The Road Trip is probably my absolute #1 favorite Romance Trope of all-time, and it's used brilliantly here. Ava and Chase are on a top-secret mission to get his bull-riding mojo back by hitting lots of tiny rodeos, and we get a real sense of small-town USA as they travel the western countryside. There's far fewer secondary characters than usual, but the ones that do appear are memorable. No spoilers, but I promise you, this book will make you cry at least once.

Despite being James's longest book, the ending felt a little rushed. A big question mark about Chase's professional life hangs over him, and while he says he'll deal and I 100% believe him, I would have LOVED an epilogue. Just five or ten more pages would have been awesome. But, James does use the end of the book to make us start counting the hours until November when the next McKay book comes out. Holy heck, does she ever drop a bombshell on fans! Again no spoilers, but hold onto your hat! And the next book is Ben, Chase's brother and in all the ways that this book was a little more subtle on the sexy, I expect Ben's book to be smokin' hot with a little extra kink. Oh my. When Ava says that Ben makes her want to obey him, I was ready to throw Chase to the wolves so that we got to know more about Ben right that instant. The most reclusive McKay is seeming pretty darn intriguing right now.

Bottom line, if you love complex, character driven Romance and are open to the spicier side of things, you really owe it to yourself to give James a whirl and this book is the perfect opportunity to do just that.