UPDATE: Somehow I missed reviewing the latest book in the series Kaleidoscope. I feel like such a dummy because I loved this book when I first read it and I loved it when I read it again. My only excuse is the library took FOREVER to get it to me. That’s the price I pay by not automatically buying every Kristen Ashley book I find.
Book Six: Kaleidoscope (4)
We finally get to know sexy and mysterious PI Jacob “Deck” Decker, Chace’s best friend that we see a bit of in Breathe. Deck knew Emmanuel Holmes back in the day when he dated her best friend. But when Deck broke up with his girlfriend, he left Emme behind. Now that Emme is back and living nearby, Deck is realizing that he might have overlooked the most beautiful gift of his life. But Emme’s past trauma makes it difficult for the two to move forward and the past and the future collide making it almost impossible for Emme to discover what she wants and who she is now.
This novel was incredibly difficult in some ways for me. It explored trauma in a way that I had never really considered before, which I think is wonderful. Getting the chance to see the myriad of ways that past pain can resurface in life is a good opportunity to remember to take the time to reevaluate wants and desires with a view of the past and the future. Deck, of course, is awesome. I loved him as a hero and he was such a great combination of alpha male and sensitive lover. And I don’t mean lover just in the sexual way, but as a man who loves a woman and wants to see her healthy and whole—the definition of lover. He didn’t necessarily believe he could “fix” Emme himself, but he was dedicated to breaking through so he could help her get in touch with people who could help her. God I love that in a man. The ending was, perhaps, anticlimactic, but the very fact that it was anticlimactic made it a HUGE surprise. I love that Ashley is able to do that after reading so many of her books.
In short, I can’t believe I forgot to include Kaleidoscope when I original wrote this review. It’s amazing and should not be missed. I am so happy the series continues as I love these small towns and this group of friends.
Colorado Mountain Series by Kristen Ashley
Overall Series Rating: 4 (sXe)
This is a series that made me fall in love with Colorado. I’ve only been there once, and that was to Denver, but the small towns of Gnaw Bone, Chantelle and Carnal, where the series is set, fascinated me so much that I pulled up google maps to see if they really exist. They don’t. (insert sad face here) While this series isn’t my favorite of Ashley’s, it is still awesome. They all have a kind of murder mystery intrigue thing going on in a much more serious way than the Rock Chick series, which makes them suspenseful and thrilling. The men are still badass alphas and the women are all beautiful in a real way (meaning they are not model thin). Book 4 of the Colorado Mountain Series connects with the last book of the Rock Chick series so it might be worth reading the Rock Chick books first before starting this one. That being said, I didn’t do that the first time and I still enjoyed them. And, since there are eight Rock Chick books (yes, I said 8!), by all means start this one without waiting.
I should warn you: this series is not complete. My dad has this rule that he only reads series that are complete. He hates waiting for books to come out and after reading the Harry Potter series and waiting desperately for the new books to come out, I completely understand. That being said, Ashley’s books work well as stand alone novels. What I mean by that is, unlike Harry Potter, each book’s main characters find their “Happily Ever After” (abbreviated as HEA in romance blogger speak) by the end of the novel. So I don’t mind waiting. And of course, you can rest assured when the new books come out, I will update my review and my blog post. Why would I do anything else? Kristen Ashley’s website indicates she intends to finish the series after writing another Chaos book and so it might be a few years, but she has the characters and plots percolating so I know it’s going to be good.
Note: This is a long post since it covers five books. My favorite was book four, Breathe. If you want to skip the plot summaries, that is generally the first paragraph, so that might help you move through the post faster.
Book One: The Gamble (4.5)
Holden “Max” Maxwell is surprised when Nina Holden shows up on his doorstep one snowy night believing she’s rented out his house for two weeks. When Nina passes out sick with a fever, Max nurses her through two days of the flu. After taking care of her, Max knows what he wants, but Nina, who traveled to Colorado from England, isn’t as sure. Her trip was intended to be a time to get her head on straight, but as her family flies into town things become more and more complicated. Add to that, a mountain man gone bad, a suicide attempt, missing people and murders, and Max’s past, Nina isn’t exactly sure whether this vacation was a good idea.
The beauty of this book is in its attempt to deal with some series issues. PTSD, suicide, rape, infidelity, and the ghosts of loved ones are not typical romance fare and certainly not all in one novel. But Ashley pulls it off with a tenderness that is surprising. Max’s philosophy to hold on to the sweet is made all the truer by his own story of love and loss. The overarching metaphor that we need to take a gamble on love emphasizes the scary nature of falling (in love). Nina is an awesome character, but for me it was really Max who stole my heart. He is a strong man, but really sensitive and focused on what matters in life.
Book Two: Sweet Dreams (4)
Lauren is looking for a place to settle down after a nasty divorce. She has driven across the country and back looking for a middle of nowheresville town to live quietly. She is surprised when Tatum “Tate” Jackson, part owner of the bar where she begins to work, notices her, and not in a good way. Despite Laurie’s attempts to settle down, she is besieged by family illness, her ex-life, and a serial killer who seems to get closer and closer to her new circle of friends. Tate wants to protect her, and in doing so, can’t help but fall in love. Loving Tate isn’t easy for Laurie though, especially since he comes with a crazy ex-girlfriend, a ten-year-old son, a surprisingly famous past, and a mean temper.
Tate was a much harder hero to like than Max. His mouth gets away with him and he can say some nasty things. But for all of that, Laurie is awesome. A farmer’s daughter who can cook, make friends with anyone, and really listens to people, Laurie is a woman I’d love to have as a best friend. The two of them together make a nice combination of salty and sweet. What makes this novel extra special is the supporting cast of characters. Jim-Billy becomes so multi-dimensional as we come to understand his past, and Bubba and Kristen, Sunny and Shambles add a nice contrasting element to Laurie and Tate as a couple. And of course, as a woman who loves true crime shows, the serial killer always in the background is always an awesome addition to a romance novel, as odd as it may be to say that.
Book Three: Lady Luck (4)
Sometimes, when I think of romance novels, and of the Colorado Mountain Series in particular, I think of this novel. The storyline is so original. Alexa regularly does favors for her deceased boyfriend’s best friend Shift. Shift is a drug dealer, pimp who Lexie doesn’t trust but can’t seem to get away from. Lexie is sent to California to pick up Ty Walker after his release from prison. She is shocked to learn that Shift really sent Lexie to be Ty’s wife, as Ty has a plan for revenge after being framed for a murder in a state he had never been to before. What Lexie and Ty soon realize is they have an instant chemistry and a fun rapport. So what was originally a marriage of revenge because a marriage of love. Things go down the rabbit hole as Lexie tries to protect Ty from himself. In the end, a lot of shocking details are revealed, and Lexie and Ty get their happily ever after.
One of the things I like about this book is the biracial relationships. I know people think that we live in a post-racial society, but I call bullshit. Most romance novels, as a reflection of modern culture, still remain within racial lines. There are romance novels with African American couples on them, and there are romance novels with Caucasian couples on them. Usually you don’t see a mix of races on the cover of novels, and usually you don’t see any other ethnicities like Japanese, Korean, Mexican, or Polynesian. (Right now I am using race and ethnicity interchangeable although I appreciate there is a difference) So, I think it is worth pointing out that Lexie’s tastes, as she describes them, run to African American men. What is nice is that the historic problem interracial couples have faced is brought to the forefront and not glossed over as if no one bats an eye anymore. I cannot say if this is the experience today of most interracial couples. Although I am part of an interracial couple, my physical characteristics are obscure enough that most people don’t realize we are an interracial couple so I can’t speak from first-hand knowledge. What I do think I can say, what anyone who has taken U.S. History can say, is that no matter how many years we have had a black President, it doesn’t erase the hundreds of years we have had racism and racist laws prohibiting interracial marriage. And, not to go on at too much length, it isn’t just romantic relationships that are highlighted here. There are families that are brought together, not through blood or marriage, but through bonds of friendship and love that cross racial divides. Here I specifically say racial because the cultural differences at not discernable. Lexie, a white woman, is primarily raised in a black family and she is completely enculturated. Once again Ashley doesn’t back down from the tough stuff and I think she is wildly successful because of it.
Book Four: Breathe (5)
This might be my favorite single book of the series and, dare I say it? from Kristen Ashley. It is probably because I identify a little too much with the main character Faye. Faye is the shy, sweet librarian who is somewhat stereotypical. She has her nose constantly in a book, she is a total geek (Firefly and Star Wars both), her best friends are online buddies she has never met, and she is a 29-year-old virgin. Now normally this is the kind of character I would be skeptical of, however, Ashley does an amazing job of exploiting those stereotypes. Faye has had a crush on Detective Chace Keaton since she was sixteen years old. What she doesn’t know is Chace has wanted Faye from the minute he spotted her as well, when she was 16. Since he isn’t a pedophile, he decides to wait for her, sow his wild oats, and settle into his career. Chace’s plans are destroyed when he gets blackmailed and caught in a web of corruption in the Chantelle police department. When Chace and Faye’s paths cross, they begin a romance that rivals all of the steamy novels Faye has grown up with. As the two try to put the police corruption behind them and help to save an abused homeless child, they find strength in each other (sorry for the cliché).
Now that I’ve given you a brief summary, I can be a bit more specific about how Ashley exploits stereotypes. First, while Faye is not the most assertive of heroines, she does have a backbone and it is seen right away. Although Faye is shy, she is friendly and adept at handling awkward social situations. Faye may be a geek, but she is pretty, wears makeup, and takes care with her appearance. Chace, as the handsome, badass cop, is openly vulnerable with her. She sees him cry (or almost cry) twice—something I don’t think a single hero in an Ashley book has done yet. And he is open about wanting and planning for a family with a loving wife and three children. The part that makes me a little concerned is Chace’s enjoyment of being Faye’s first and only sexual partner. It makes me a little unsettled with how invested he is in making Faye “his.” Why this bothers me with Chace and not any of the other heroes seen in the series thus far, I couldn’t tell you. What makes me only mildly uncomfortable with it is Faye’s equal participation in getting her own fantasies fulfilled.
Technically you can read this book as a standalone, but much of what goes on in the police department is revealed in Lady Luck. I’m not sure how I would feel about this novel if I hadn’t read the previous three books, so I can’t vouch for it on that level. But the book is set to music (you just have to look it up on your own) so that really furthers the emotion of the story.
Book Five: Jagged (4)
Graham “Ham” Reece and Zara Cinders had the kind of friends with benefits arrangement anyone would envy. They knew each other, liked each other, and had great sex, but all with no strings attached. Ham is a rolling stone, or at least was, until a serial killer (from At Peace) causes him to re-think his life philosophy. Lucky for him, Zara, who had left Ham in order to try and find stability and build a family, is divorced. Also lucky for him, unlucky for Zara, Zara has lost it all—her house, her store, and her money. Ham, determined to turn Zara’s life around and get her back, tries to provide her the stability she’s always wanted. But when Zara’s sister dies, family secrets are revealed that test their patience and their love.
Of the series, this book isn’t exactly my favorite. That isn’t really saying anything, since all of the books are good: totally engrossing with unique plot lines and lovable characters. Ham and Zara are sweet together, but the ending is a little weird. The third person narrator suddenly telling us how Zara and Ham’s life is going a couple of years later seemed out of place. And I didn’t like the way Ham and Zara fought. They really took stabs at each other and I had a hard time figuring out why Ham was so obtuse about things. But, it is classic Ashley in that the two of them have a history together, they support each other, and they love each other the best way they know how.