Joint Review – Running Wild (Men of Battle Ridge # 1) by Linda Howard and Linda Winstead Jones

Running Wild cover image
Publisher: Ballentine Books
Release Date: Out now
How we got this book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley

In book 1 of this steamy new contemporary Western romance series by two blockbuster authors, a cowboy and a woman on the run take a stand and fight for love.

Carlin Reed lives in fear, off the grid, moving from place to place. So Battle Ridge, Wyoming, a small town in the middle of nowhere, seems like a good place to lie low for a while. But after becoming cook and housekeeper to cattle rancher Zeke Decker, Carlin suspects that she’s made her first mistake. Rugged, sexy, and too distracting for his own good, Zeke is pure temptation mixed with something deep and primal that makes Carlin feel almost safe. Soon things are getting way too hot in the kitchen.

Zeke doesn’t challenge Carlin’s terms: cash, dead bolts, and no questions. It is easy to see that she’s a woman in trouble. Problem is, he’s so blindsided by his attraction to her he can’t think straight. Zeke tries to stayall business, no complications—but that game plan is sabotaged the second Carlin gets under his skin. And when her terrifying past follows her to the ranch, Carlin faces a heartbreaking choice: run away from the man she loves, or put him in the crosshairs of a madman.
This blurb came from Goodreads.

E: I have been a long time Linda Howard fan but found that her recent series of books were missing a connection with the characters. I learned via her facebook page that she was experiencing some health issues and was struggling to find that connection herself. After a lot of work with her doctors she was able to get them mostly regulated and as a result started to feel her connection again. I have also previously read Linda Jones’ writing in the Raintree trilogy so I was curious to see what they would come up together. I will admit that before I asked for an ARC I heard someone in my trust circle say that this was getting back to the style of writing from the Linda Howard I enjoyed. I am please to say that my trust was not misplaced and I found this one of her best in quite a while.

Has: I totally agree! I feel the same way about the recent offerings by Linda Howard which definitely lacked her old magic and the romances seemed lackluster. But I am a huge fan of hers so I was hoping she would regain her classic feel of good romance and a tight plot. And while I liked her first collaborative book, with Linda Jones (who I also enjoyed her fantasy romances in the past) – it did have issues. However, I did think Running Wild was almost back to form, because the focus was on the romance, instead of establishing world-building or the suspense.

Carlin, who is on the run from a stalker finds herself in the middle of a small town in Wyoming and trying to figure out the next steps to outwit him. She is offered a job to become a housekeeper for Zeke whose luck to find a suitable one has failed repeatedly. And despite his misgivings, offers her a job over the winter.

I loved the opening of the book, with initial sparring and banter with Zeke and Carlin when they first met – it was full of sparks and witty dialogue and it really felt like classic Howard for me. I loved it! Nonetheless, despite the great introduction, I felt the pacing got bogged down in the middle of the book and that affected the development of the romance.

E: While this certainly was a vast improvement over the previous books I agree it had some issues. I didn’t really have a problem with the middle in terms of pacing because I felt it gave me a chance to get to know the characters and for Carlin to settle in. I really enjoyed Carlin’s interactions with the the citizens of Battle Ridge and her verbal sparring with Zeke. I also liked how the majority of the cowhands decided they would do anything that Carlin wanted/needed just to keep her around. One of my favorite things to read was about Carlin’s triumphs in the kitchen from a basic cook to one who could master anything. I think that certainly gave her a much needed boost. I wasn’t as sure about Zeke because he was rather a-holish and only gradually started showing who he really was to Carlin. But Zeke did grow on me and by the end of the book I was certainly cheering for him.

What I didn’t like as much was the stalker theme. I think it was a bit overdone trying to show just how clever Brad, the bad guy, was. As a police officer he had enough advantages in my opinion. And then he became TSTL which I found to be annoying because it contradicted his “cleverness”.

Has: I think for me, while I did enjoy the scenes where Carlin had her ‘war’ in the kitchen especially over perfecting the White Cake which was pretty funny, I wished there was more oomph and heat with the romance, which kind of stalled. I understood that Carlin and even Zeke would be tentative in commencing in a relationship with their pasts – but I missed their sparring and the sparks they generated together, because they both took a step back. And it went on a tad too long. In a lot of ways, this was a much subtle and sweeter toned romance, and I wasn’t expecting that.

I also felt a bit disconcerted, with the fact that Carlin who had a successful administrative job before her stalker caused so much disruption, evolved to this domestic goddess, albeit with rubber cakes and combustible biscuits. It was not the fact, that she was happy and content with this new role, but the transition from her old life to this new one felt a bit jarring and I would have liked to see more of why she felt like this. Because Carlin faces challenges head-on and I liked that, and I got her need to find a real home and family but I wished there was more to show her change of direction.

But my main gripe with the plot is definitely with the suspense and stalker sub-plot. I definitely agree with you that it wasn’t the strongest element in the book, and I found the villain to be a cardboard-cut out bad guy. I also found that it was vague with the set up and I wished this was expanded upon, to show how dangerous he was, and I never felt that he was an effective bad guy, until the end which was tense and scary. But the build-up to that last confrontation was a let down and I don’t think it added anything to the main story or the characterisation.

E: That is an interesting point about Carlin going from a seemingly career minded woman to a domestic goddess. However, I think that Carlin just wanted a place to belong, a family, and safety. She found that on the ranch as well as personal fulfilment. I don’t think she was expecting that but since she does tend to attack things head-on she was going to make the best of her current situation. The sense of belonging snuck up on her despite her best efforts.

The other thing that bugged me was the actions of the former live-in housekeeper. I could understand that she wanted to inspect her replacement but I thought she should have had some trust in the men on the ranch and their intelligence. I think she took things a bit too far but I understand something had to be done to get Brad in Battle Ridge for the final confrontation. I think Howard and Jones took a bit of an easy way out of that particular corner. Although I have to admit that I loved the results of the “White Cake.”

Has: I think for me, that the beginning and the ending was great – although Running Wild had the potential to being really good, because it had a great start. I just wished there was Bow Chica Bow Wow in the middle of the book, because I loved the sparring and heat between Zeke and Carlin, and even though I get why they gave each other space, it dragged on for too long. But I definitely think this was one of best recent books by Howard and Jones. Despite the slow middle, this had a fun and sexy romance, with engaging characters who was full of humour, warmth and even snark. And even though I was a bit tentative on the whole domestic goddess element, I did enjoy Carlin’s culinary experiments, and the backdrop of the small town of Battle Ridge really added to the atmosphere and tone of the romance which had that close-knit family feel. It was like biting into a cup-cake, with zesty icing and dark chocolate – it was a comforting and sweet read.

I give Running Wild a C+

E: I was pleasantly surprised with what I found in Running Wild given Howard’s recent single author titles. While I had some issues with this one I did get invested in the characters and the story. The town of Battle Ridge was interesting for a dying town. It does make me wonder what could be done to bring it back to life or will the people we have met end up moving away. The villain and final confrontation were underdone but I enjoyed Zeke, Carlin, and the local’s interactions. Carlin certainly kept me laughing as she refused to let Zeke cow her. I have high hopes for future books in this series and hope that Howard continues to get her writing mojo back.

I give Running Wild a C+

Links to purchase:

Amazon | Kindle | Nook | BN

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