Author: Kelly Moran

Residual Burn by Kelly Moran

Residual Burn by Kelly MoranResidual Burn by Kelly Moran
Series: Redwood Ridge, #4
Published by Kelly Moran on 24th September 2019
Pages: 218
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one-half-stars

Jason Burkwell is all about the next adventure. Whether it's an emergency call as lieutenant on Redwood Ridge's fire department or a pretty woman between the sheets, he gets in and gets out. He has no interest in being trapped by anything or anyone. But when he's manipulated into a charity auction for his station, something tells him he's about to get hosed. Especially when the town matchmakers shove quiet, shy Ella Sinclair in his path. Constantly. Every encounter with the brown-eyed beauty makes him realize the simmering attraction and strange tug of emotion is beyond basic heat.

Together, they're combustible. If only he can figure out what she's hiding...

Ella Sinclair's been burned before, and she's got the scars to prove it. Ever since her return to Redwood Ridge, she's had more than a little crush on a certain gorgeous firefighter. Except Jason doesn't know she exists. To trigger his memory would mean reliving the worst day of her life, and she's worked hard to move past the pain. Venturing out of her safety zone is tough enough, never mind that hero worship leaves her with a horrible case of babbling-itis. Her heart's becoming more engaged the longer they spend together, but his sudden interest can't possibly last when he discovers she's not the ideal image of perfection.

I hesitated with this book, then picked it up only because I like Kelly Moran’s writing—full of heart and emotion—even if the blurb gave me many pauses.

And true enough, there were many times that I wanted to stop there and then despite the evocative use of words. Because this was a pairing involving a Peter Pan womaniser with daddy issues who never looked past his own behaviour just had to be paired with a very, very inexperienced woman whose self-esteem was in the dumps.

It’s safe to say that the protagonists (along with the back drop of some very annoying secondary characters mixed with other sage ones) were what I had a huge problem with. Ella Sinclair’s constant reiteration of her own inexperience, her babbling, her put-downs of herself got exhausting to read about after a while, but I could feel for her more after her back story was revealed.

But no matter how Moran tried to frame Jason as a charming playboy, out only for a fun-lovin’ time with never breaking women’s hearts because he was out of the door by the time that happened, I could only see him as a mega-prick through and through, more so when there were repetitive paragraphs dedicated to how he ‘normally’ behaved around women and how he was breaking the mould with Ella.

Even if this was to show how Ella was different, her obvious discomfort and babbling around him were cringeworthy, more so since it felt like she intrigued Jason only because she made him to the work instead. That he never needed to chase women but instead he sought out the first stirrings of attraction, then left before it burnt him out didn’t endear me to him at all…more so because it cemented his repulsive reputation too well that it made the HEA unbelievable.

These issues are frankly, personal, which makes this review the clichéd but true ‘it’s just me’. I struggled through ‘Residual Burn’ for these reasons, even though the underlying narrative of firefighting and loss was the only thing that kept me hanging on. Not my favourite Moran book honestly, but then, I went into this really hoping for better.

one-half-stars

Benediction by Kelly Moran

Benediction by Kelly MoranBenediction by Kelly Moran
Series: Cattenach Ranch #2
Published by Smashwords on August 8th 2017
Pages: 250
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four-stars

As a child, Nakos Hunt left behind the familiarity of his Native American Arapaho tribe for time on Cattenach Ranch. Now the foreman, he's happily settled into his life, but the girl who befriended him all those years ago suddenly has him twisted inside out. He craves stability and purpose, and Amy Woods is anything but a calming presence. Though she's unbelievably gorgeous and about the only person who can drag a laugh from him, he's never been able to understand her. Then a moment changes everything, and an urgent need to protect her rises inside him. And doesn't let go. So does an aching desire and a bond he can't seem to control, no matter how hard he fights the need.

She's no one's version of ever-after...

Amy's not a stranger to disappointment. She's spent the majority of her life pulling up her bootstraps and flipping Karma the bird. Once, she may have dreamed of things like happiness and love, but those were for other people. Nakos has never been someone she deserves, yet the attraction between her and the meticulous sexy-as-sin cowboy is undeniable. And too tempting to ignore. Not only is he strong, patient, and respectful, he's showing her a kind of romantic passion she didn't think existed. But the secret she's keeping could shatter their perfect bubble, and when an old nightmare comes crawling back from the past, she realizes losing Nakos will be the one thing she can't recover from.

From the beginning, I knew I wanted Nakos Hunt’s story ever since he burst onto the scene at Cattenach Ranch. He was for me, the guy who got short-changed, who had unrequited feelings that weren’t returned the way he needed them to be, and the one who got left behind. I did feel more than a little sorry for him when it appeared that he would be a rare breed of a protagonist—sensitive, intuitive and perceptive.

Yet I wanted to see how he got over the woman he had a thing for (apparently, for years) and how his feelings managed to flip at the turn of a coin when he sees his other childhood friend finally getting out of an abusive marriage. Nakos’s love for Olivia and his developing feelings for Amy Woods when he’d never quite looked that particular way at her before would have otherwise made me uncomfortable, had Moran not so articulately explained his acceptance of the fact that he and Olivia would never happen and the way he had to reexamine what Amy did for him.

The friends-to-lovers trope is a tricky one which isn’t always handled satisfactorily, but I do think that Kelly Moran makes a credible case that a person can fall in love with several people and not compromise the depth of their feelings for any person. I didn’t exactly buy into the idea that he hadn’t actually loved Olivia enough all along—the first book seemed to show otherwise—though that this story seemed to be trying very hard to justify how he’d always seen Amy differently. I was frankly, alright with how his own sentiments had changed and how unflagging and stalwart he became once he got it in his head that he and Amy were going to be a couple.

Alpha Nakos, when he actually came out to play, didn’t hurt either and that went a long way in transforming my idea of that guy down in the dumps because he didn’t go after what he wanted in the first book.

I had a harder time with Amy, but that’s just me here with my preferences for somewhat ’stronger’ heroines: she’s a victim in every sense of the word, who has perpetrated her own misery, caught in a cycle that she can’t crawl out of because she has never thought better of herself. Most of the book has her unable to face her deep-seated issues and while I would have liked her to be a bit more courageous when it came to Nakos, I could understand where her self-esteem problems stemmed from.

Moran has such a way with words that can slay, tear down and build up. ‘Benediction’ is an emotional ride throughout; there’s this aching slow-burn and the delicious build-up that finally burst with spectacular sparks, but the HEA that was initially denied Nakos in the first book clinched it for me.

four-stars

New Tricks by Kelly Moran

New Tricks by Kelly MoranNew Tricks by Kelly Moran
Series: Redwood Ridge #3
Published by Kensington Books/Lyrical Press on September 26th 2017
Pages: 250
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three-stars

Loving someone is something you never forget how to do . . .

Zoe Hornsby has enough on her plate. Her pet grooming business tucked inside her friends’ veterinarian clinic is busy, and all her free time outside of work is dedicated to caring for her mother’s ailing mind. Dating is certainly not on her agenda. For all she cares, the town gossips of Redwood Ridge, Oregon, can set their matchmaking sights on someone else. Because no way would she consider sexy veterinarian Drake O'Grady her perfect guy. Once upon a time, she may have harbored a little crush, but he’d only had eyes for her best friend. And the crazy attraction building between her and Drake now? Down boy, down.

After Drake lost his wife to cancer, he’s finally clawed his way out of grief and beginning to feel more like a part of the human race. But he’s appalled to learn his prying family thinks he's ready to jump in the dating pool. And the woman they thrust at him couldn’t be more inappropriate. As his dead wife’s best friend, Zoe is off limits. Even if they seem to share a common sadness, she is too potent a personality to get romantically tangled with. Yet she’s making his heart beat and blood roar like he never thought it could again. And he doesn't want to just exist anymore . . .

The intensity of emotions and the build-up of a relationship are Kelly Moran’s trademarks and by and large, her nuanced take on issues of unrequited feelings, grief and what it means to embark on something that has the tinge of the forbidden can break the hardest of hearts. ‘New Tricks’ turns the table on the grieving spouse unable to move on as Drake—who doesn’t fit into that category at all—is the active pursuer of a relationship and the one suddenly pining for a woman he’d never seen more than a friend until a while ago. That alone made him stand out as I enjoyed every moment of him going after what he wanted, then calling Zoe out on her running away.

I’m a little mixed about the pairing in question nonetheless, not just because I’m wary about friends-to-lovers but also because I found Drake a lot easier to like than Zoe, who frustrated me at times. I wasn’t entirely sold on her as a character who had the reputation of being the town’s ‘good time’ (which came uncomfortably close to the equivalent of manwhore for me somehow, which I equally dislike) or her frequent use of near-antagonistic sarcasm as guilt prevented her from moving on with her dead best friend’s husband. While I could sympathise with the number of things on her plate and the way these duties weighed her down, I also didn’t like how volatile Zoe became when confronted with her own feelings that she couldn’t quite own up to in front of him, in contrast to Drake’s relatively easy admission that he didn’t know what to do with a burgeoning attraction. Using as many weak excuses that she could—including the ‘good time’ one—simply felt like a form of playing games that she didn’t want yet inexplicably did somehow. Yet Zoe was a multifaceted bundle of contradictions that made her a realistic character too, as was Drake whose grief was given a poignant sheen that I loved.

That said though, ‘New Tricks’ is definitely an emotional one, with some angst on the side thrown in for good measure. The ghost in the relationship isn’t entirely missing, but isn’t too much of an obstacle that it becomes the focus of the story and the sole reason for being the conflict of it. As I’ve always said, what rocks my boat doesn’t necessarily do the same for others and vice versa, and while this was an okay-type read for me, Moran is typically an author I come back to time and again.

three-stars

Redemption by Kelly Moran

Redemption by Kelly MoranRedemption by Kelly Moran
Series: Cattenach Ranch #1
Published by KDP on June 13th 2017
Pages: 230
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four-stars

Nearly the last remaining member of Olivia Cattenach's family has just died overseas and left her overcome by grief. But when a soldier shows up at her ranch with a final message from her brother, she finds new purpose. Nathan Roldan is as formidable as they come. Bulging muscles and inked to boot, he looks like every bit the bad boy he claims to be. Except, under his shuttered gaze and behind his walls lies a gentle giant. Determined to carry out her brother's wishes, she chips away at Nate's layers and discovers more pain than any person should ever have to endure. And a passion she never dreamed was possible.

He's not the hero she thinks he is...

Nate's mistake got a fellow comrade killed, and a deathbed promise to take care of the guy's sister lands him in Wyoming with the hope of redemption. But he wasn't expecting...her. Beautiful, witty, and sweet, Olivia is everything he doesn't deserve. Born a nothing, he'll die a nothing. Though guilt is a living thing, temptation is too hard to resist. Somehow, she's unleashing his restraint and unearthing feelings he buried long ago. He wants her. More, he's worried he needs her. She's trying to save him, but when she learns the truth, he'll lose the only happiness he's ever known.

The search for Olivia Cattenach is as much a journey for redemption as it is to fulfil the last wish of a dead soldier. Only that this woman isn’t what Nate Roldan expected, nor is it a mission from the grave that ends up being one that changes his entire life the moment he roars up a long driveway on a Harley with nothing more than a promise he intends to fulfil.

Slow-paced but beautifully teased out and emotionally satisfying, I loved every step of Olivia’s and Nate’s journey that went from uncertainty, resistance to acceptance. Much of it is Nate’s story than Olivia’s really, as his heart-wrenching backstory takes shape under Olivia’s skilled questioning just as he learns to blossom under affection, affirmation and love. There’s much to savour here-the prose, the atmosphere, the delicious tension and the moments that come to life beneath such stylish writing-that I found myself sorry when it ended.

four-stars

Tracking You by Kelly Moran

Tracking You by Kelly MoranTracking You by Kelly Moran
Series: Redwood Ridge #2
Published by Kensington Publishing on May 23rd 2017
Pages: 234
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four-stars

Love isn't always loud. Sometimes it's silent.

Gabby Cosette has always been dubbed the good girl of quaint Redwood Ridge, Oregon, and being permanently put in the friend zone has left her dating life stagnant. With no prospects in sight, she clings to her friends and resolves to not let loneliness drag her under. So when the town Battleaxes set their matchmaking sights on her, she figures it can't hurt. Yet the guy they think is perfect for her just happens to be not only her boss at the veterinarian clinic, but her best friend. Sure, Flynn O'Grady is attractive and the nicest guy around, but going there with him would topple both of their carefully constructed worlds and there would be no going back. Even if he is starting to make her girly parts zing.

Having been born deaf, Flynn has already felt like an outsider most of his life. Aside from his brothers, Gabby is about the only person who's gone out of her way to treat him as more than a handicap. Which is exactly why he's banked his secret attraction for his sweet, beautiful vet tech. Except his meddling family is trying to play Cupid and ruin the best thing to ever happen to him. Without Gabby, his work as a veterinarian, never mind his personal life, wouldn't flow. Determined to ignore the antics, he's secure in the knowledge she's not interested in him romantically. But then a kiss changes everything . . . and he's wondering if taking the ultimate shot at love might be worth the risk.

Both Gabby Cosette and Flynn O’Grady had been passed over for other people—Gabby because she’s the girl-next-door, the pretty but not gorgeous kind that men put in the friend zone, and Flynn because of his disability and his quiet nature. Yet they’re best friends, co-workers and simply people who rely so much on each other that entangling their lives beyond this risks the complete collapse of their friendship. But not rocking the boat isn’t an option anymore, when the small crush (Kelly Moran makes it clear it was never serious pining or secretly-in-love kind) Flynn has nursed but shoved deep into a box suddenly sparks a bigger flame.

I’m always wary about best friends-to-lovers romance, but I’m glad Moran has her characters addressing why the sudden change occurred—and of all times, why now? I wasn’t entirely too sure what sort of answer would have satisfied me though, to be honest, but I could frankly say that I liked how Gabby and Flynn themselves struggled with this and how the resulting tension that came out of it made for a delicious, smouldering build up of heat. The pacing lags a little as Gabby/Flynn transition from friends to more but I think Moran does show how perfect they are for each other through every up and down in their lives. I completely understood Gabby’s perceived insecurities about Flynn not wanting her ‘properly’, yet how tuned in she is to him—how considerate she when it comes to his deafness despite her inability to see how Flynn had crushed on her—won me over. It’s equally difficult not to feel for the deaf guy, who, while a quietly confident man on his own, does have several issues of his own to overcome with regard to his inability to hear.

‘Tracking You’ is quite an emotional, romantic read nonetheless; there’s the homely feel of the small-town romance and the sense that neighbourly interference is good-natured rather than malicious so when the couple in question finally get together, it’s with cheers and all the feels you can summon up.

four-stars

Summer’s Road by Kelly Moran

Summer’s Road by Kelly MoranSummer's Road by Kelly Moran
Published by CreateSpace on April 5th 2016
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two-stars

Perhaps her true love was always there, waiting...
After her father's death, Summer Quinn is alone in the world. With no family to fill the void, she finds comfort among friends. But her boyfriend wants to take their relationship to the next level, and suddenly there's an unexpected attraction building between her and her best friend, Ian Memmer--a man who's never settled for one woman. And now her estranged mother has reappeared. As secrets from her family's past and Ian's true feelings emerge, she's faced with choices she's not sure she can make. Happiness hinges on forgiveness and opening herself to love, even if it's not where she expected to find it.
Top Review Pick from Night Owl Reviews & The Romance Reviews!*A stand-alone novel with a HEA*

Read loosely as a bildungsroman, ‘Summer’s Road’ is a fantastic take on a woman’s growing up journey and the tight, transformative bonds of friendship which weathered every obstacle; as a romance however, I’m not sure it succeeded.

Summer Quinn is a sharply-drawn character, nuanced and so multi-layered that I can’t help but like her and the very real struggle she faces in reconciling passion, commitment and love.

Yet there are lines of friendship that shouldn’t be crossed and I cringed yet soldiered on when the book walked right over them, particularly the cheating aspect that I couldn’t quite stomach, as procrastination and contemplation gave way to selfishness and stupidity. As the story progressed, I was more and more convinced – and I’m fully aware that I’ve got an unpopular opinion here – that Ian should have simply remained a great friend instead of a lover, because I thought he’d failed in every aspect as the latter.

Apart from bring written as the casual manwhore archetype (albeit with a more sensitive side) which I’ve always despised, it was Ian’s characterisation, as with most player types that simply convinced me of his affinity for friendship than ‘romance’. His faulty logic of sleeping around, yet hoping that the argument that all those women who ‘meant nothing’ would hold water simply because he’d ‘waited around’ for Summer to see him there never worked – and probably never would – for me. Yet if that rationale was meant to make a woman feel special, then perhaps it’s simply proof that I’ll never be able to sigh along with those who simply love to be the one who ties down the bad boy and his fervent promises of forever after finally tagging the girl he wants.

Cowardice I thought, would have been a better word to describe Ian and his romantic stance, when we’re told that he’d always known what he wanted but never had the guts to step out and do anything about it. I felt, on the contrary, for poor Matt, who didn’t deserve what he had coming to him because of 2 people’s indecision about each other.

Mixed feelings is what ‘Summer’s Road’ left me with at the very end; I appreciated the degree of development that the book dealt with, but would have been perfectly satisfied with a thorough exploration of friendship that stretched but didn’t cross boundaries.

two-stars

All of Me by Kelly Moran

All of Me by Kelly MoranAll of Me (Covington Cove, #2) by Kelly Moran
Published by Berkley on September 1st 2015
Pages: 304
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two-stars

A “fantastic”* new romance from the author of Return to Me and "one of the top 10 reads of 2013"
For ten months, bestselling novelist Alec Winston hasn’t been able to type a single word, and he’s coming dangerously close to breaching his publishing contract. An invitation from his brother to spend the summer in Wilmington Beach might be just the thing to blast through his writer’s block. Yet Alec discovers more than a spark of inspiration on the sunny sands. He meets an amber-eyed muse who makes him think about much more than books . . .
Faith Armstrong has finally gathered the courage to leave her past behind and accepted a job as a private tutor, hoping for a fresh start on the North Carolina coast. This is the home she’s always longed for—not just a place, but a state of mind. She’s felt invisible her whole life, so the host of new friends and the attention of a sexy author have her head spinning.
But Alec has a secret that could prove this isn’t the life Faith dreamed of after all . . .
"Fun, emotional, and totally engaging!"~CARLA NEGGERS, New York Times Bestselling Author

It pains me to say this, but I was surprised to be very disappointed with this book, my dissatisfaction having less to do with Ms. Moran’s typically excellent and persuasive writing and more to do with her characters whom I began to dislike increasingly as I went further and further into the book. There are heartfelt moments which I appreciated between the women and the slight comic relief that the secondary characters provide prevents Alec’s and Faith’s story from becoming a soap-opera and what I felt was the saving grace of the plot.

But at the heart of it, Alec and Faith come across like a forced pairing over which I cannot muster any enthusiasm at all. I’ve made no secret of my preference for principled heroes and Alec Winston in this case, just seems to fall way outside this broad and nebulous category. I found his moral integrity and his penchant for self-indulgence questionable even if it’s a product of misplaced guilt – continuing to whore around town when a woman, who by any other name is still his (albeit brain dead) fiancée is still in a nursing facility -, and the conspicuous self-pity he seems to broadcast about always screwing things up wasn’t in any way sympathy-stirring but frustrating when he’d only sought to cover his guilt for the past decade rather than seek help for all the self-awareness he’d seemed to profess to have. On the other hand, Faith’s almost preternatural yearning for acceptance and neediness is more understandable but ultimately annoying when she seems to push precisely for a (non)relationship that pours salt into Alec’s gaping Achilles heel.

Overall, a mixed bag that I wish I could rate higher, given that I actually loved Ms. Moran’s Phantoms series.

two-stars