Monday, March 8, 2010

Wide Open Spaces

In my desperation to convey to publishers that I want more American-set historicals, I buy everything that is published (and sounds "good") brand spankin' new. Especially when the publisher "takes a chance" on a debut author writing in that setting. When I first heard that Berkley was publishing Pieces Of Sky by Kaki Warner in trade paperback, I wasn't all that happy about it. It's hard enough getting readers to try a western, let's make it doubly hard by making them more expensive! However, after reading this debut novel, the first in a trilogy, I think it was a sound decision. But more on that in a minute.

Jessica Thornton has fled England under the weight of a terrible secret. With no one else to turn to, she makes the journey to America, in hopes of finding her brother, whose last known whereabouts were New Mexico. Life in a sheltered English country village certainly hasn't prepared her for the Southwest. The country is unforgiving, the heat is unbearable, travel is arduous, and everybody is so uncouth. Tops on the uncouth list is cowboy Brady Wilkins. The man is positively insufferable!

Brady ran into some trouble on his way back to his ranch, which is how he meets up with the stagecoach. He immediately takes delight in ruffling Jessica's feathers. Granted they don't see a lot of females out at their spread, but she's so unlike any woman he's ever met before. Then circumstances end up throwing them together, and they find themselves spending a lot more time together. Brady also learns that an old enemy, tied to a blood feud involving his ranch, is once again on the prowl, and this time he is desperate to do what he failed at last time. Namely, protect everything and everyone he holds dear.

I'll be brutally honest. When I'm reading westerns, I like my characters to be well...American. The English society miss in Big Bad America has never been a trope that has worked for me. So color me incredibly shocked that it works for me, and in a big way, here. By far and away the best part of this story is watching Jessica's transformation. The past she is running from is horrific, and while she starts out too-prissy-to-live, how she battles, thrives, and makes her way through the harsh New Mexican landscape is really wonderful reading. I adored this girl.

Brady is a stoic, Alpha western hero. A man tied to his land out of love and loyalty. A man who has essentially given up having his own life in the name of guilt and obligation. Determined to protect his brothers and employees, and still carrying the weight of a blood feud started by his idiot father, this is a man haunted by his past and not really living in the present.

However, it's not perfect.

The problem with this story is that it wants to be Lonesome Dove, and it's never given the chance. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the author has an earlier manuscript of this story stuffed in a desk drawer somewhere that's at least 200 pages longer. There's quite a bit (most of it involving the ranch feud) that takes place "off page" and at times I thought it undercut the conflict. That being said, I can't think of a single publisher or editor with enough cojones these days to publish a 600+ page romance novel. Sorry, they just don't exist (Diana Gabaldon, in my ever so humble opinion, does not write romance). So for this book to have been as long as it probably should have been, Warner would have to have taken a hacksaw through the happy ending and gone the "historical fiction" route.

Which she didn't. Bless her heart.

I do think this could be a Gateway Western for those historical romance readers who think they hate them. Jessica being English certainly helps. Also, this story has a great saga-like feel to it that hearkens back to the earlier days of the genre. That being said, also like the early days of the genre, this book is, at times, quite brutal. Brady makes choices I suspect many readers will take issue with, although I personally feel the author does a good job of explaining these choices. When a bitter, pointless (aren't they all?) feud encompasses your entire adult life, it's hard to not have that color your judgment. Also, while this is a romance novel, and we do get a happy ending, this is definitely an instance of where "bad things happen to good people." It's not all sunshine and roses for our characters. Period.

The ending is a little problematic, mostly because Brady is a moron - but Jessica saves the day by calling a spade a spade - or in this instance telling Brady he's an idiot. I love it when heroines stand up for themselves and Jessica does so here. Not everything is resolved in a completely satisfactory manner however. Jessica's brother is never really addressed, and something happens to one of the villains at the end that I personally felt was a bit of a letdown.

At the end of the day though, this is a good, solid debut historical, and bully for all of us that it's a western. I think it has massive crossover potential - in large part thanks to the trade paperback format (which plays very well in book club and historical fiction circles), breathtaking cover art, and the saga-like quality to the story. At its heart though, this is a romance novel. Make no mistake.

Final Grade = B-

Contest Alert! I'm giving away one copy of Pieces Of Sky! Contest is open to international (non-U.S.) readers, and will be chosen randomly from comments left on this blog post. Contest ends Sunday, March 14. Many thanks to Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation for providing a copy for this giveaway.

30 comments:

Samantha said...

I am not usually a historical reader, but I think I could be for westerns. I love westerns but just haven't picked up any great ones yet. I need to work on that. And this one has really intrigued me.

AnimeJune said...

Don't bother signing me up for the contest. Great review!

I'll admit, I really liked the heroine and LOVED the fact that she called the hero on his "I'm sending you away for your own good" BS.

I have to admit, I'm one of the people who took serious, SERIOUS issue with the stuff Brady did, enough to make an entire post about it. I'll cop to the fact that he's been involved in a nasty blood feud for a long time but some of the stuff he pulled was Flat. Out. Evil. And I don't feel the novel ever really acknowledged the absolute horror of what he did.

Eh. Also - lots of telling over showing. Particularly in the sex scene.

Kristie (J) said...

I enjoyed this one slightly more than you did. But I agree that Brady was a real bone head at the end. And I really enjoyed Jessica!! She gave it to him good didn't she?
I also wondered about the dropped story line of the brother. I was left wondering what happened with that.
And the part that bothered AnimeJune didn't bother me nearly as much. Sure it was a bad thing he did - but I thought he had enough motivation and I like gray in my stories sometimes. It was rough times and sometimes people did take the law into their own hands.

Lynette said...

I've heard so many good things about this book, I'd love to win a copy. The premise sound great and your review certainly made me want to pick it up.

Kelly Anne said...

Oh, I really want to give this book a try! I love Westerns, and you're my number one source for finding the good ones!

Sarah McG said...

I don't often read westerns, but this sounds like a story I could enjoy! It will be a nice break from Regency stories.

Karen W. said...

I love westerns and have been DYING to read PIECES OF SKY, but my library doesn't have it in the system. :(

Thanks for the review and for the contest.

Tracy said...

I've heard good things about this but IDK something about it is making me step back. I haven't decided whether I'd like to read it or not. hmmm...still thinking.

D.L. said...

Great review. I've always been so-so about historicals, but I'd love to give this one a try.

Giynlith said...

One kind-of western romance I read and loved, which also happened to be one of the first few romances I read, was "The Indiscretion" by Judith Ivory. It's set in England (so it's not really a western, I suppose), but the hero is from the American South (I think; he's definitely American). The heroine is a plucky young woman who refuses to conform to society, despite the time period.

ms bookjunkie said...

I'm intrigued enough that I'm going to be getting this book/series(?), but (as reality bites chunks out of my wallet) I'm going to wait for the mass market edition.

Emma Hillman said...

OKay, so now I want to read the book to know what Brady did! I've just been on Amazon and put it on my Wishlist.
I haven't read an American-set historical in a long while, but this one sounds too good to pass up.

Mollie said...

This sounds really good. I never thought I was much of a Western fan either, save a few of Linda Howard's earlier books, but I also thought I didn't care for historicals in general and I've read several this year that I thoroughly enjoyed. So I'm trying to be more open in my reading preferences. Willing to try new things. I'll definitely add this to my TBR pile!

azteclady said...

I'm craving this book, but I really can't afford to buy trades new...

Mind, I understand that in many cases it improves a book's chances of succeeding, but still.

So, pretty please, enter me in the drawing?

Jamie said...

Not usually a fan of western novels, but this one sounds interesting.

AbbyThompson said...

Oh wow. As a professed "western hater" you nearly have me convinced to try this one out. Let's hope there's some good karma in this comment and I'll win a copy!

Lynn Spencer said...

I'm usually with you on the English heroine in America plotline, so I'll admit I was nervous when I started reading this one. I've read several with this plot that were insufferable, but I really liked Jessica here. And I have to admit that while in my mind, I would easily say that Brady did some awful things to his enemies, I could also understand the reasoning and it didn't ruin the book for me.

And you probably knew this already, but I'm not commenting to enter the giveaway. Hope someone has a really good non-Regency reading experience, though!

Joanne Graves said...

Westerns are my favourite historical period though I don't read tons of them. I'm thinking that should change. All time fav is The Wives of Bowie Stone by Maggie Osborne - I read that book every year.
And would love to be entered in the contest

Kwana said...

Thanks for this review. Great job and insights.

Rebecca @ DSB said...

When I first read about Pieces of Sky that trade format had me worried (what were they thinking?). I enjoyed your review though, and I want to try it now. It's been far too long since I read a western romance.

Jennifer Estep said...

I'm a sucker for westerns (historical or contemporary), and I've had my eye on this one for a while now. Gotta whittle the TBR pile down a little more first though ...

lauren said...

Thanks for the contest, Wendy!
This looks like a fabulous debut and I'm definitely putting it in my TBR pile. Winning it would be even better!

JayBeeBee said...

I love westerns and this sounds like it's right up my alley.

limecello said...

I've been hearing about Pieces of Sky - and hearing good things about it. I know how much you love westerns, and you and Sybs have convinced me to read more :)

Wendy said...

Lots of great comments, and I've been slacking off at responding to them :( It has been very interesting to hear the opinions of Brady's actions from people who have read the book already. Certainly they've been varied, which, I think is to be expected.

Heh - and I'll admit I'm a hypocrite. I'm not a huge fan of English chick coming to America, American chick going to England, or English bloke coming to American - BUT I'm all over a book when it has an American guy going to England. Maybe because that storyline is rarer breed?

ledavis04 said...

I read Pieces of Sky, and loved it. I am a huge fan of western romances though. Maybe because I live on a ranch in the west, so of course enjoy a great cowboy and a spunky women who can stand up to him. Brady and Jessica definitely fit that bill. And I must say I was not horrified by what Brady did at all, to me it fit the circumstance. It is a GREAT book and I would encourage everyone to read it. I can hardly wait for the 2nd book "Open Country" come out!

LoriK said...

With rare exceptions Westerns are the only historicals I read and there aren't enough of them so I'm always glad hear about a good one.

Daphne said...

Sounds intriguing. Going on my wishlist. Haven't read any historical western/romance in a long time so hopefully this will satisfy. Thanks for the review.

maered said...

I've read good things about this book. Count me in on the contest, please.
Thanks!

Ruth said...

I've heard nothing but good things about this book.