I know a number of readers don't care for them, but I happen to love novellas. When they're done well, they're tasty bite-size morsels of satisfaction. I also happen to be a sucker for continuity series. Those multi-author series that sometimes (but not always) feature an overarching story arc. NotMy1stRodeo.com is a continuity novella series from Samhain about an online dating site that caters to country folk who have already been around the block (they're widowed, divorced etc.) There are currently three novellas in the series (no idea if there will be more?), and I zipped through two of them over the weekend. As far as I could tell, the only thing holding them together as a series is the dating site concept. No reoccurring characters or plot elements that I picked up on.
Nothing Like a Cowboy by Donna Alward starts out just fine, but once the conflict kicks into high gear it slid south for me. Um, to the point where I was shaking my Kindle and calling the heroine not-so-nice names. Out loud. In other news, My Man now officially thinks I'm insane.
Brett Harrison was married to a woman who thought being a rancher's wife would be more glamorous than the reality turned out to be. Baggage he has it. His twin sister is sick of seeing him mope around, so she signs him up for a dating site and sets a coffee date with Melissa "Melly" Walker, also a divorcee. Melly was dazzled by her ex, who turned out to be a liar - so baggage, she has it. Brett agrees to keep the date, mostly because his sister's deception isn't Melly's fault and he comes clean the moment they meet at the coffee shop. They like each other, they share a smoldering kiss. A future date leads to them hitting the sheets and that's when all hell breaks loose. Conflict turns up in the form of an Amazing Coincidence. The problem being that Melly doesn't think it's an Amazing Coincidence so much as a Big Secret. Given that she has trust issues already? Yeah, she freaks out.
This starts out as a very nice read. It's kind of fun to read about an awkward first date (essentially a blind date) in a romance novel where we're often subject to suave heroes who ooze charm and charisma. What didn't work for me had everything do with the conflict in the second half of the story. I get that Melly is upset. I get that she has baggage. But her reaction and her subsequent treatment of Brett struck me as extreme. As in, pull yourself together you stupid, selfish b*tch extreme. Yes, the groundwork of her trust issues is laid well before, but ugh - I intensely began disliking her and no amount of Her Ex Done Her Wrong could wash the bad taste out of my mouth. Frankly I could not for the life of me understand why Brett was so patient with her. I'm sorry, no sex is that good, no matter how long of a drought you've had. Alward has written better and if you're curious to try her work, I recommend following this tag for recommendations.
Final Grade = D
Something About a Cowboy by Sarah M. Anderson is a surprisingly tender and OMG HOTT! story. If I wasn't sitting in front of a fan, I was wiping away tears. It's a real winner.
Six years ago Mack Turner's wife died of cancer. They were high school sweethearts, got married young, had babies young, and now his three sons are grown and worried about Dad. He's 46 and alone on his ranch. Winters get mighty lonely. It's his youngest son who sets him up with a profile on the dating web site and gives Karen Thompson his Dad's number. They talk and agree to meet in Billings (a three hour drive for Mack) for dinner and possibly more.
Karen is divorced and her self-esteem is in the toilet. Her ex was totally incapable of being faithful and Karen just wants to feel desired by a man again. She's not looking for love. She's not looking for marriage. Which is good because neither is Mack. What she wants is for a man to look at her with passion in his eyes - and when Mack gets a load of her in a slinky red dress? Yeah, wish granted!
The complaint I think some readers may have about this story is that it's very steamy and that it's short. It's borderline erotic romance as far as content goes. There's some "getting to know you" stuff to the romance, but honestly that's not why these two characters hook up initially. They're there to get back, figuratively, into the saddle. Naturally when the cold light of morning dawns, Mack finds himself confronted with his past, and needless to say he doesn't handle it well. It's the resolution to his baggage, the emotional heft of it, that made this short novella such a winner for me. A picture perfect afternoon read.
Final Grade = A
On a final note, I think it's worth mentioning how well I thought both authors handled the happy endings in these stories. Again, they're short novellas and I loved that neither one tried to do too much with them. They're basically happy-for-now, but the reader is left with the solid impression that both couples are together, in a relationship, and will, probably, down the road, make the whole thing official. Praise the saints that neither of them crammed in a marriage proposal or pregnant with twins epilogue.
Note: The third book in the continuity series is Anything for a Cowboy by Jenna Bayley Burke (sorry haven't read, no review). You can purchase the stories separately, or in a 3-for-1 edition.