Gentle On My Mind, by Susan Fox

>> Friday, November 21, 2014

TITLE: Gentle On My Mind
AUTHOR: Susan Fox

COPYRIGHT: 2013
PAGES: 385
PUBLISHER: Zebra

SETTING: Contemporary Canada
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 3rd in the Caribou Crossing series

In her latest contemporary romance, Susan Fox welcomes readers back to Caribou Crossing, the ruggedly sexy Western town that seems made for starting over...

Brooke Kincaid knows second chances don't come cheap. She's spent five years repairing past mistakes and making her life in Caribou Crossing steady and predictable. But now a stranger's Harley has shattered her fence and her peace of mind in one swoop. Brooke is drawn to everything about wounded undercover cop Jake Brannon--his raw masculinity, his tenderness, and the undisguised desire that makes her feel more alive than she's ever been.

By rights, Brooke should curse Jake for complicating her life. Instead she's offered him a place to heal and a cover story as he searches for a wanted man. Jake knows she's vulnerable, but she's also strong, kind, and hotter than hellfire. It's a combination that could make even a die-hard loner long to put up his boots and put down roots at last, and show her just how good a second chance can get...

I loved Susan Fox's Planes, Trains and Automobiles series so much that it placed her on my autobuy list. Her latest work is a small town/modern Western series, which is not usually what appeals to me, but her name on the covers made me pick up the books anyway. They'be been sat in my TBR for a while, until I read Wendy's really intriguing comments on Gentle On My Mind. It's the third book in the series, but why not?

As Wendy says, what's most interesting about this book is the heroine. You certainly don't get many heroines like Brooke in romance novels. She's 43, and as the book opens she's just found out she's going to be a grandmother. This is wonderful news to her, especially since just a few years earlier the idea of being involved in her son's life would have been beyond her wildest dreams.

See, Brooke is a recovering alcoholic. She became an alcoholic while raising her son, Evan, whom she'd had at 15, and coping with a hard-drinking, violent, minor criminal of a husband. She would be the first to admit that she screwed up with Evan, and it wasn't a surprise to her that for many years he would want nothing to do with her.

But in events that happened in book 2 (I think!), Evan came back to Caribou Crossing and evidently reconciled with Brooke. By then Brooke had been sober for some 4 years, after landing in hospital after a car accident and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The treatment for that was very successful, and spurred her into giving up alcohol as well.

As this book starts, Brooke is almost at the 5 year mark in her sobriety and has put together a satisfying life designed to keep her condition under control. She has a routine she enjoys, which includes things like regular exercise, healthy meals and lots of quality time with her son and his new wife and step-daughter.

And then Jake Brannon crashes his motorcycle into her white picket fence. Jake is a policeman working undercover to expose a drug dealer and grower who's also a murderer. He has received information that the culprit is a pillar-of-society type in Caribou Crossing, where Brooke and her family live, and he's been looking around the area. The reason he crashed into Brooke's fence is that he was running away from bad guys who shot him when he found their marijuana-growing operation, and he lost control of his motorcycle due to the loss of blood.

Jake doesn't start with the right foot with Brooke, as the best approach he can come up with in his half-unconscious state is to threaten to kill her family if she doesn't keep him hidden. But that doesn't last long, and Jake soon takes Brooke into his confidence and reluctantly accepts her help in vouching for him as a long-lost cousin, so he can infiltrate the town properly.

The whole undercover operation plot works mainly as a way to explore the community of Caribou Crossing and Brooke's status in it. After so many years of living there as the town drunk, she still feels uncertain about interacting with people, even though she's been sober for quite a while. Jake, with his outsider's perspective, is able to make her see the respect and true friendship people are offering. I also loved seeing Brooke with her son and his family. She's a bit tentative with him, as well, but you get the feeling that they're going to be fine.

The romance is nice, if not particularly revolutionary. Jake is hot and a motorcycle-riding adrenalin junkie. He won't ever give up undercover work, he tells Brooke, and this makes it obvious to her that there's no future in their relationship. She knows herself, and knows that she wouldn't be able to cope with the fear of knowing he's constantly putting his life in danger. I particularly liked how Fox used the romance as a way of showing us how Brooke had got so much stronger than she'd been a few years earlier. After she and Jake begin their affair she starts worrying, because she mistrusts the strong emotions he's making her feel. She worries that it might be triggering the sort of maniacal states she felt when her bipolar disorder was out of control. So what does she do? Well, in a refreshingly sensible move, she talks to her doctor, who reassures her and helps her start to learn the difference between strong emotions that are healthy and what she was used to feeling when she was ill.

I also loved the way something was dealt with at the end of the book. It's very spoilerish, so all I'll say before the spoiler tags is that an issue comes up that is present in very few romances (even though it happens much more commonly than that in real life), and that I thought the characters' reactions and actions were great. So, moving into spoilers: [start spoiler]Brooke gets pregnant, even though they've been careful. There might be issues with her continuing with her usual lithium doses while pregnant, so she seriously considers having an abortion. Her fears are not portrayed as irrational, and no one assumes this would be the wrong choice for her. Her doctor sets out the options for her and they discuss the risks of each, and Brooke thinks about it. She does decide to continue with the pregnancy, but never thinks abortion would have been wrong, just not the right option for her in that situation. Jake is supportive, too. Brooke writes him a letter when she finds out about her pregnancy, in which she tells him what's happened and that's she's considering a termination. Jake is on an assignment when the letter arrives, so he doesn't get it until much later. He assumes she has now had an abortion and doesn't judge her at all. He goes to see her to give her his support, not to condemn her or to try and stop her in case she's still pregnant.[end spoiler]

A really good book, and I'll definitely be reading the first two soon.

MY GRADE: A strong B+.

4 comments:

Darlynne,  22 November 2014 at 18:55  

I've wanted to read Susan Fox's books for so long, but they're not at my library and the digital prices used to be quite high. I just found CARIBOU CROSSING free on Amazon, so your review of the third book is particularly timely.

And let's hear it for older heroines! I'm older than Brooke, but it's great to see that someone knows we don't disappear after our 30s.

Rosario 23 November 2014 at 07:55  

I think Kensington really sabotaged her by setting her prices so high in her previous series (both ebook and print). Those books were really wonderful, but the prices probably put off many readers. The Caribou Crossing series has much more sensible prices, thankfully!

And I completely agree about wanting more older heroines! I want more of a variety, period!

Wendy 24 November 2014 at 16:00  

Really great review. You make me feel guilty for not rating this one higher (it was around a B- for me - mostly because I was lukewarm on the hero and suspense plot), because everything you say here about the heroine, and in the spoiler section, is so very true.

I've got her Planes, Trains and Automobiles series somewhere in the TBR, in print. Looking forward to them!

Rosario 24 November 2014 at 21:24  

Wendy: Oh, I totally see where you're coming from re: the hero and suspense plot. He's a bit generic and the plot is not particularly well done. They didn't bother me, though, and allowed me to spend time with Brooke, which was enough for me! :)

I do hope you like the other series. I actually started with the 2nd book (the 'Trains' one) and it's probably still my favourite.

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