Review: Ranch Series by JL Langley

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Rating: 5 stars for the series

We’ve looked at JL Langley’s wolf shifters and her Sci-Regency series, so let’s finish up back where I first started my love with all things JL Langley. And that would be with her cowboys which is fitting with an author who resides in Texas and has a state of imagination to equal it.  Tomorrow I will be talking about why I love The Tin Star, the very first Langley book I read.  I have always had a soft spot in my heart for cowboys.  I think it come along with my love for horses and never left.  I spent a summer as a junior wrangler at a dude ranch called Stupid Charlie’s in Colorado at the impressionable and yes, hormonal age of 15. And if I had had a dick, I would have had a raging woody all summer long from being in the middle of a crew of young,handsome (aren’t they all at that age wearing chaps and boots) cowboys more experienced than I was at that age.  I fell in love with a bay horse named Senagita and a cowboy (all of 16) named Lane and wanted to take both of them  home with me at the end of the summer.  Needless to say, my folks said no to both. Aw shucks was I heartbroken, although I can’t begin to tell you whether it was over the loss of the horse or the boy.  All I know is that I was inconsolable for the longest period of time until I found a local stable to hang out at,  Susan a fellow hunter,  and a horse we both loved called Tiptop. But I never stopped dreaming of cowboys and would go to the rodeo whenever it came to town (oh yes they did, even in DC).

JL Langley’s Ranch series gives me plenty of cowboys to love and hang out with, from Jamie and Ethan of The Tin Star to Grayson Hunter and Shane Cortez of The Broken H while bringing back so many fond memories of life on a ranch.  As she does with all her series, she populated her Ranch books with characters flawed, human and still memorable, ones we give our hearts and affections to easily and completely.  In addition to the cowboys, we also get wonderful idiosyncratic animals too.  There is a horse named Spot who plays keep away and a female dog called Fred who steals each and every scene they are in.  Gather them all together in a small town in  Texas surrounded by family and friends who comes across as equally authentic and realistic as the main characters and you have a series that will mean as much to you as your first cowboy hat and boots.

The Tin Star (Ranch Series #1) stars Jamie Killian as the youngest son of Jacob Killian of the Quadruple J and Ethan Whitehall, owner of The Tin Star ranch.  The Quad J borders The Tin Star and the two families have been intertwined their entire lives.  John, Jamie’s older brother has been Ethan’s best friend so as long as they can remember, even going off to college together.  And hopes had run high between the two fathers that one of the Whitehall boys would marry Julia, the Killian sister and bring the ranches together.  But Ethan’s brother was killed overseas on a tour of duty and  Ethan, well, Ethan found out he was gay, something the older Killians were fine with but that Jamie never knew.  Until Jamie comes out to his father and is kicked off the ranch he thought he would never leave.  When Ethan offers Jamie sanctuary and tells Jamie that he is gay as well, then the sparks really begin to fly as Jamie has harbored a crush on Ethan from the moment he knew he liked boys instead of girls.

Ethan has always been circumspect about his sexuality, neither hiding it or rubbing it in the face of their conservative town folk.  But when Jamie comes to the ranch to live, Ethan finds not only a friend but a lover for life in the form of his best friend’s brother.  But the sparks of hate are flying in town too.  Former ranch hands are looking to get even with Ethan for being fired and homophobia presents itself as stores won’t sell grain to the newly outed Ethan.  Langley makes us feel the hatred rising off Jacob Killian and other townspeople so far gone in their homophobia that all reason and humanity becomes lost.  But  where there is the worst of human beings on display, JL Langley is quick to show that others can come forward with their tolerance, and objectivity to welcome Ethan into the town’s fold, and Jamie too no matter their sexuality.  Powerful stuff made real by Ethan and Jamie’s situation as they work towards a loving relationship and a future together.  Great story, great characters, great book.

The Broken H involves several of the people we meet in The Tin Star.  Grayson Hunter was one of the sheriff’s investigation the crimes of hate on  The Tin Star.  The Broken H is Gray’s family ranch, owned by his parents and run by Shane Cortez.  Shane Cortez had been brought onto The Broken H by Gray’s father when Shane was a young boy.  Gray never knew the entire story but accepted Shane’s presence and was soon following him around everywhere, a clear case of puppy love.  But then one summer changed everything between the two men and Gray left the ranch and went to college.  His parents knew something had happened but never pushed either boy for answers.  Now Gray has returned to town and accepted a job in the Sheriff’s office.  It also means a return to his family, The Broken H, and to face the man he ran away from all those years ago,  Lovers reuniting after time spent apart draws me like a moth to a flame and JL Langley’s treatment of this theme will push all your buttons if you love it too.  There is misunderstandings, and one person trying to protect the other, and above all a deep abiding love between the two men involved.  That’s just so wonderful.

And lurking just behind all of this is the theme of the awful price GLBTQ youth pay for coming out to those who mean the most and won’t accept them, their families.  Over and over gay youth are kicked out of homes and families due to hatred concerning their sexuality.  Some survive when others intervene, some do whatever they can to exist on the streets, and some just don’t make it.  The plight of gay youth discarded because of who they love is brought home more forcibly when characters we have come to love have the same backstory as they do and we feel what they have gone through by the power of an author’s writing.  We see Ethan, Jamie, John, Aunt Margaret and many of the other townspeople we came to care for in the previous book and we get a glimpse of a possible couple that people want to see united.  That would be John and Royal.  JL Langley has put the cut pages from the book on her website and they will make you want more, so much more of John and Royal.  She tends to do that with her peripheral characters because they are bursting with life as much as the main couples to our continued appreciation and joy.

The Christmas Tree Bargain is the third story in the series.  It was published as a stocking stuffer by Loose id.  A heartwarming short story, it brings together all the cast of characters from the two novels at Christmas time.  We get to catch up in their lives on a very special occasion.  This story is not to be missed if you love the other two as much as I do.

So there you have it, the Ranch series by JL Langley.  Her fans have been screaming for more, especially John and Royal’s story but so far to no avail.  She says she’s busy with Sterling and Rhys, Trouble and Rexley, and Bannon and Lord Demon among others.  Since I want all those stories too I wouldn’t think of interrupting her.  If they start speaking to her, I know she will listen, eventually.  I’m good with that.  I have these books and all the rest to reread until a new one comes out.  Pick out a series and start from the beginning and I know you will feel the same.

Review of Alone In A Crowd (Cattle Valley #27) by Carol Lynne

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Rating: 4 stars

Sheriff Ryan Blackfeather has worked hard to overcome his torturous past to get where he is today, successful in his job as Sheriff, in a town where he has friends and is respected, and most importantly, content and happy, in love with his two partners, Nate and Rio.  But a phone call from Oklahoma revitalizes old memories, bad ones that upset his hard won equilibrium and makes him pull away from those he loves.  Ryan’s mother has died and the landlord wants the trailer moved off his lot or the rent paid for.  Without telling either Rio or Nate why he is going, Ryan leaves on a trip back home, to face his past and confront the abusive father who raised him.

When Nate and Rio realize that Ryan has been withholding the truth about his travels from them, they are hurt and worry about the man they love.  How can they help with when Ryan doesn’t realize he needs their help to begin with.  As the emotional turmoil of Ryan’s past starts to tear at his relationship with his partners, Ryan understands that only by returning to Oklahoma and confronting his demons can he save all he has now, including the men he loves.

Carol Lynne’s Cattle Valley series were some of my first books when I started reading m/m fiction.  As I have said back in our Series week, I love starting a novel and then discovering that I have a slew of books yet to read in the series.  So there is a huge reservoir of affection that wells up in me when Cattle Valley is mentioned. I think there was six books in the series when I started and now it is up to book #27, each running anywhere from 98 to around 130 pages.

Cattle Valley series began in 2007 with All Play and No Work (Cattle Valley #1).  In this book, Lynne introduces us to Cattle Valley, Wyoming, a gay haven established by a man mourning the death of his gay son.  The millionaire wanted to build a place where everyone was gay, and safe, and could build a meaningful, rewarding life among others just like themselves.  So he deeded his land to the town and the GLBTQ community came.  Lynne starts off her Cattle Valley series as Ryan Blackfeather arrives from Texas to take the job as Cattle Valley’s first Sheriff. Ryan is a part of a triad, his other partners being Rio Adega and Nate Gills.  When their small Texas town’s disapproval of their relationship becomes overwhelming, Ryan convinces his men to make the move with him to Cattle Valley.  That move and the trio’s adjustment to Wyoming starts the river of books that are the Cattle Valley series.

In each book, Carol Lynne concentrates on one or two pairs of men and their relationships.  It is also a staple of Lynne’s that the characters for the books that follow are introduced in the current one.  And then as the town fills up with people and businesses, during the course of book the characters we have already met continue to pop up again and again in every story.  So Ryan as Sheriff, Nate (who eventually becomes the Mayor) and Rio who runs the local gym are focal characters for the series.  These men and their relationship were also my first introduction to m/m/m!  Lynne has taken their relationship and reexamined its dynamics throughout the series and she does so again in Alone In A Crowd (Cattle Valley #27).

In previous stories we learn Nate and Rio’s history. Here we concentrate on Ryan Blackfeather who has always come across as the rock of their relationship.  Ryan has always seemed so controlled and steady while not detracting from the deadly abilities he gained in the military. So it’s interesting that it’s Ryan who starts to fall apart when confronted with his past, a real switch of rolls within the triad.  Lynne’s descriptions of the reservation and the living conditions Ryan faced growing up in a derelict trailer are both heartbreaking and realistic. Any one familiar with the plight of Native Americans on reservations today will recognize the authenticity Lynne brings to the scenes in and around Tahlequah, Oklahoma, capitol city of the Cherokee Nation.  Whether it is Ryan confronting his father in the nursing home or both men facing their pasts in a dusty cave on the reservation, the descriptions brings the men to life and we feel the anger and pain of their conjoined past rise up around all of us.

In addition to Ryan’s story, another character from the past comes back to Cattle Valley.  Smokey Sharp from Rough Ride (Cattle Valley #4) reappears in town, sober and hoping to make amends to the people he wronged in the past.  That would be Erza James, Palmer “Wyn” Wynfield (a favorite of mine), and Elliot Simmons, owner of the grocery store. Smokey is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis which limits the work he can do.  Ryan finds Smokey work on Robert “Oggie” Ogden’s Second Chance Ranch as a ranch manager.  Carol Lynne uses Smokey and Oggie to set the stage for the next book in the series.  Oggie’s ranch will become home for GLBTQ youths homeless and/or in trouble.  She is already lining up the characters: Drake Smith, Chief of Security of Montgomery Enterprises who wants to help financially, and maybe even Joseph, Nate’s ex boyfriend who runs a GLBTQ youth center in NYC.  And then there is Dean Grooper, former school custodian, using alcohol to drown his pain over the loss of his long time partner.  We meet him here too.

And this brings me to my main quibble with Carol Lynne’s stories lately.  Too many characters crowded together into books too small in size to adequately give each character sufficient attention. In the first 6 or even 8 books, the town is still small and Carol Lynne concentrates all her wonderful powers of characterization into a small group of people. With a small focus group, it is easy to become invested in them and their stories.  And quite frankly, easy to remember who is with whom. I love those people and can remember each and every detail from their backgrounds.  Then the town got bigger (as towns will), more people came and Lynne left behind the one couple/one book format for multiple pairings in a novella sized book.  After a while I felt I needed a town chart and name tags for everyone who showed up in a scene plus all the newcomers making their debuts to get them in place for the next in the series.  There were so many people crying out for attention that my brain hurt and characters were forgotten.

Another quibble for me is the pairings. Lynne took Cattle Valley from strictly m/m or m/m/m into other pairings such as m/f/m which doesn’t interest me. Multiple relationship combinations make sense in that Cattle Valley is set up as a town of tolerance so any pairing outside of m/f  would be acceptable in town, I am just not interested in reading them specifically. And yes, you can skip those books like I did but as each book moves the series forward, we miss out on events that will be mentioned down the line. It also seemed to bring in an element of “MarySue” into her writing that had been absent up until then.

Carol Lynne packs a lot of emotion into a story and her characters.  She also packs a lot of sex. She has dealt with sex when one partner is paralyzed, sex with multiple partners, interracial sex, fem gays, Bdsm, D/s, you name it and Lynne has probably addressed it in a story .  Her sex scenes are vivid, hot and never unintentionally funny.  In Alone In A Crowd, she had the boys do things with an ear of corn (ok that was funny but intentionally so) I had not read before and still left me able to have corn on the cob at my next meal!  I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that as I love corn.  She also mentions a douche attachment for the boys shower, something I think should be brought up more as it is a realistic part of anal sex.  Carol Lynne did a great job here while still giving us realistic elements.

I had stopped reading Cattle Valley around Neil’s Guardian (Cattle Valley #17), overwhelmed by too many characters and too little plot in too few pages.  With Alone In A Crowd (Cattle Valley #27), Carol Lynne returns to the form that made me a fan to begin with and does it with the characters that started it all. I hope this continues with the next in the series, #28 whatever that may be.  And in the meantime, I might just have to go back and pick up the ones I missed.  I still love Cattle Valley and its vision of a town of tolerance and equality.  Alone In A Crowd brought that all back.  If you are new to the series,start from the beginning.  See Cattle Valley as it gets off the ground, meet  all the inhabitants as they find their way to town, watch as the romances form and carry over, story after story.  You will have 27 to go and counting.  For those who got lost along the way like me, pick it back up again and remember why you loved it.  And for those who never left,  here is a gem of a story to treasure as Cattle Valley continues to grow.

The Cattle Valley Book Series covers by Posh Gosh are my favorites in a series cover.  They brand the series while still conveying the subject of each book.  Great job.

Here are the stories in the order they should be read to understand the series and the characters.

Cattle Valley: All Play & No Work,Cattle Valley: Cattle Valley Mistletoe Cattle Valley: Sweet Topping Cattle Valley: Rough Ride Cattle Valley: Physical Therapy Cattle Valley: Out of the Shadow Cattle Valley: Bad Boy Cowboy Cattle Valley: The Sound of White Cattle Valley: Gone Surfin’ Cattle Valley: The Last Bouquet Cattle Valley: Eye of the Beholder Cattle Valley: Cattle Valley Days Cattle Valley: Bent-Not Broken Cattle Valley: Arm Candy,Cattle Valley: Recipe for Love Cattle Valley: Firehouse Heat Cattle Valley: Neil’s Guardian Angel Cattle Valley: Scarred Cattle Valley: Making the Grade Cattle Valley: To Service and Protect Cattle Valley: The O’Brien Way Cattle Valley: Ghost from the Past Cattle Valley: Hawk’s Landing Cattle Valley: Shooting Star Cattle Valley: Confessions Cattle Valley: Shadow Soldier