Series: One and Only Texas

One Wild Night by Melissa Cutler

One Wild Night by Melissa CutlerOne Wild Night by Melissa Cutler
Series: One and Only Texas #3
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on March 7th 2017
Pages: 304
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two-stars

A cowgirl at heart, Skye Martinez has a rebellious streak she's determined to shake. Especially since she's poised to take the reins of her family's business at Briscoe Ranch Resort. It's time for her to settle down and get serious about her future...right after one last night of fun with a handsome stranger she meets in the resort's stable. But when a midnight horseback ride turns into a red-hot weekend with one of country music's biggest stars, Skye's world is rocked beyond her wildest dreams...
Gentry Wells rode his bad boy image all the way to the top of the country music charts. But churning out hits has dried up his creativity, and he can't remember the last time his life was his own. Skye is a sexy distraction he can't resist, especially since she breathes new life into his music. They bring out the wild side in each other, which is great for Gentry's career—but a major threat to Skye's. Too bad he's fallen in love with her. With their hearts and futures on the line, can Gentry convince Skye to turn their joyride into a real chance to ride off into the sunset together?

‘One Wild Night’ is as the title suggests: the accidental meeting of 2 strangers at different crossroads of their lives, who then decide to have a weekend fling and then say goodbye. A country music has been, strung around for years to keep up his reputation and raunchy songs with the manager of Briscoe Ranch’s housekeeping whose bad girl is straining at the leash as she battles the values instilled in her from the very beginning—it’s pretty much an unlikely pairing to survive if not for a crisis that happens to turn things around.

This is the sort of read that puts me at a loss for review, particularly when it felt like characters who were doing the wrong things (or sometimes the so-called ‘right’ things) for all the wrong reasons. The accident—a major turning point—suddenly gave Gentry a 180-degree turn from a man who was convinced that he was a commitment-phobe to the other extreme where he found himself going to convert to Catholicism (because it was one of the terms and conditions that Skye had laid out) and become the stable man Skye always wanted. It’d taken life as he knew it away, flipped that mental switch and I disliked how this new Gentry only emerged because the accident gave him no option but to reevaluate what he’d been doing; essentially, I doubted that he would have ever voluntarily chosen the kind of lifestyle that Skye was ultimately looking for or prioritising her because his flagging career came first. Yet the excuses simply vanished with his finger and his sudden transformation kept me in continual disbelief throughout. For Skye, unable to shrug off her religious upbringing, kept thinking of every bad thing happening as heavenly punishment that was meted out to her with the accident had me grimacing, even as she swung from one emotion to another that made her indecisive about what she really wanted.

I’d be the first to say that the kind of religious guilt present throughout made me uneasy…as it was probably meant to be. That it’d resulted in the self-indulgent and sometimes irrational, immature behaviour of the characters—while providing the impetus for dictating directly and indirectly how both Gentry and Skye behaved however—was thoroughly frustrating. Gentry/Skye as a result, didn’t exactly appeal to me, as their relationship simple seemed overshadowed by Skye’s religious convictions (yet contrary behaviour) and Gentry’s seeming inability to do what he really wanted but never managing it until the accident pushed him into it.

The One and Only Texas series has so far, a hit or miss for me. Unfortunately, I think I should have given this one a pass.

two-stars

If Santa were a Cowboy by Melissa Cutler

If Santa were a Cowboy by Melissa CutlerIf Santa Were a Cowboy by Melissa Cutler
Series: One and Only Texas #2.5
Published by Swerve on October 25th 2016
Pages: 105
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one-star

Paul Savage loves Christmas at Briscoe Ranch Resort, when he gets to take a break from being a back country guide to play Santa in the resort’s lobby and talk to kids about toys. The last thing he expects is his high school crush to come waltzing in as his new assistant photographer, wheeling a suitcase that's more naughty than nice.
Kelly Walker is a disaster. All she’d wanted was spice up her life by saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity, which is when the universe started pelting her with ‘no’s. So when she comes across a job listing for a holiday photographer working with the sweet, scrawny boy whose advances she’d laughed off in high school, she jumps on the chance to turn her bad Karma around by giving Paul a second chance.
Trouble is, Paul’s anything but scrawny anymore, and his cowboy swagger throws her grand plans for a loop—especially when he tempts her with a red hot proposition of his own. Kelly’s in way over her head, but as she gets swept up in the magic of Briscoe Ranch’s holiday charms—and Paul’s—could Kelly’s year of ‘no’s be leading up to the ‘yes’ of a lifetime?

It’s great coming back to Briscoe Ranch, but I’ll have to admit that it’s not a story I’d recommend, for the sole reason that the characters irked me past my own tolerable limits,  particularly it’s employed as a trope of contemporary romance fiction for the bulk of the tale—festive or not.

Unfortunately, it’s one of those stories where deception and a relationship based on false premises form most of the story and the eventual conflict. And it was all I could not get past rather than revel in the reunion of 2 long-lost high school supposed sweethearts who never were.

While it was hard not to question if both of them Paul Savage and Kelly Sawyer loved the idea of each other being the lost chance that never materialised or if they did love each other at all, it was Kelly’s deception for most of the book that was frustrating to the point of me wanting to give up the story completely. In fact, I hated her from the very beginning: showing up out of the blue to take a chance with a man she’d all but tossed aside many years ago, then continued to treat him atrociously by lying to him about the shambles her life had become and then walking out of him twice without the bloody balls confess it all face to face (after driving away with his truck). If Kelly was afraid of the pedestal Paul had put her on, I hated that she continued using this particular explanation as an excuse to play happy house and not do a thing about it, for the fear of losing it all with him. Yet knowing it was an inevitable loss underscored that much of a lack of intelligence that I couldn’t stomach. That Paul took it upon himself to ‘stop playing the victim’ outraged me further, giving her that chance which I felt she didn’t deserve at all when all Kelly had done was to lead him on.

But because this is specifically written as a Christmas story, perhaps this is testament to the season of forgiveness and second chances. Perhaps it’s about rewarding the underserving. On the contrary, it hits all my uncharitable notes despite the festive season values the story wishes to espouse and I couldn’t wait to put it aside.

one-star

One More Taste by Melissa Cutler

One More Taste by Melissa CutlerOne More Taste by Melissa Cutler
Series: One and Only Texas, #2
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on October 4th 2016
Pages: 368
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four-stars

Ambitious and talented, chef Emily Ford has the chops to make it in the cutthroat culinary world—which is why she refuses to accept her demotion at the hands of Knox Briscoe, the new CEO of Briscoe Ranch Resort. He has grand plans that include bringing in a celebrity chef to helm an exciting new restaurant at the resort, but Emily has plans of her own—to do whatever it takes to change his mind…
Knox Briscoe made his millions in the high-risk game of buying and flipping businesses. Cut out of the Briscoe fortune by an old feud that left his family in ruins, Knox grew up dreaming of revenge. Out-maneuvering his uncle for control of the resort is merely the first step in his plan—a plan that doesn’t include the brazen and beautiful Emily Ford. Drawn into her passion, Knox’s world is turned on its axis, and it isn’t long before he’s faced with the biggest risk of all—with his career, with his heart…and with the woman who has captivated him, body and soul.

The quirky humour starts it all off, with almost slapstick rom-com scenes rolled into a montage playing to the constant background music belted out by the latest indie rising stars. Throw in a massive fish hell bent on tormenting Knox and a supposedly haunted truck, and ‘One More Taste’ quite forgivably makes you think this is going to be a fun romp whose biggest challenge is the getting the combination of gastronomic delights perfect. Yet what starts out as Knox Briscoe’s challenge to Emily Ford’s demand to run her own restaurant suddenly barrels down a winding road of familial conflicts, revelations and heartache that I never saw coming, all of which written so seamlessly in by Melissa Cutler that I couldn’t tear myself away from the last quarter of the book.

It’s Cutler’s vision and portrayal of Knox however, that had me on his side from page one; a romantic lead so well fleshed out (and thankfully without the shenanigans of typical  male leads that we face these days) and so nuanced that it wasn’t difficult to like him despite the hypocritical family (whom I hated) that he had. I found myself slightly less enthused by Emily, whose outward bravado couldn’t always conceal the inner cowardice that didn’t have her fighting for the actual things she should have been fighting for.

But even as the house of cards both parties built collapsed with the slightest puff of air, ‘One More Taste’ stands out for all the culinary that’s been written into it and the great writing that buoyed and lifted the accompanying drama throughout.

four-stars

One Hot Summer by Melissa Cutler

One Hot Summer by Melissa CutlerOne Hot Summer by Melissa Cutler
Series: One and Only Texas #1
Published by St. Martin's Press on April 5th 2016
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Welcome to Dulcet, Texas, home of the legendary Briscoe Ranch Resort, where one woman will discover that even love is bigger in the Lone Star State...
Celebrity wedding planner Remedy Lane is Hollywood royalty--until a scandal sends her packing to the wilds of Texas. She has a knack for leaving disaster in her wake, but she's determined to reboot her career at Briscoe Ranch, a luxury resort known for extravagant weddings. Little does she know that weddings don't happen at the resort without the approval of the town's cowboy swaggering, too-hot-for-his-own good fire chief, Micah Garrity.
Micah knows trouble when he sees it, and all it takes is one glimpse of Remedy's princess airs for him to know he's met his match. Too bad he can't stop thinking about her--even when she brings about one disaster after another at the resort. He and Remedy clash at every turn, but they can't stop the sparks flying between them. They come from such different worlds--does love stand a chance or will this fire burn too hot for either of them to handle?

Remedy Lane lurches from disaster to disaster, each done with unyielding sass and good intentions. In every situation, she pulls the gruff, grounded fire-chief along with her in this rocky ride – all for the happy-ever-afters for the couples who have engaged Briscoe Ranch resort to host their wedding ceremonies. It’s wedding planning in full force, and in trying to escape the scandal that has plagued her in celebrity-buzzed Hollywood, Remedy realises that this small town in Texas has much more to offer than the shallows of the celebrity lifestyle she’s known all her life.

Much of the book is about reconciling how opposites could work out, encapsulated not only in Remedy and Micah, but in the contrasting social circles in which they both run. It’s also the major source of conflict as well as humour and I loved the straight, no-nonsense storytelling until it became rather bloated in the middle, only to bend, twist and turn into a burning (pun intended), emotional climax that stole my breath because I didn’t quite see it coming.

But it’s strange to review a book where there are many things to like as there are to dislike: the humour vs. the constant, exhausting bickering about wealth and status, the ‘frenemy’ chemistry vs. the quick burnout at the end, and the huge cast of characters vs. the relative stock stereotypes which seemed characterise many of them. Despite my own conflicted opinion, one thing that has struck me throughout is how much of a standout this series has the potential to become. For that reason, I’m simply going to stick with this good thing that Melissa Cutler has gotten going.

three-stars