Sunday, February 28, 2016

Retro Review: Ashes of Dreams
This review of Ashes of Dreams by Ruth Ryan Langan was first published at The Romance Reader in 2005.  I rated it 4-Hearts (B grade) with a sensuality rating of PG-13.


When one reads genre fiction, one has to expect that there’s going to be a formula. Also, plots have a way of getting recycled. I’ve read Ashes Of Dreams before. Just with different titles and different authors writing the story. But it doesn’t make this version any less entertaining. When I settled into the first chapter I knew this story was being told by a pro. Ashes Of Dreams is a pleasure to read.

Amanda Jeffrey is hanging on by a thread. When her husband died the previous year, he left her with a Kentucky horse farm in debt to the bank, a crotchety father-in-law and three young boys to raise. When her father-in-law takes a tumble while repairing the barn roof, it’s up to Amanda and her overwhelmed children to pick up the slack.

Like manna from heaven, Colin “Cole” Donnelly and his young son, Devin, come riding to the rescue. In exchange for meals and a place to sleep, they’ll take over the farm chores and do repairs on her barn and fences. Having left Ireland several years previously, the Donnellys came to America and immediately started working their way west.

Toss in the disapproving father-in-law, the immediate attraction between Amanda and Colin, Colin’s past in Ireland, a neighboring farmer who wants Amanda’s land and you have a tried and true story. However, Langan keeps it fresh and lively, throwing in a couple of twists. It’s also very evident that Langan has spent many years writing for Harlequin Historicals. Don’t let the short page count (278 pages) turn you off. This story is lean and mean, with no fat mucking up the flow of the tale.

Amanda is a strong woman trying to make the best of an unenviable situation. The horse farm was Shane’s dream. When he died, that dream went up in smoke. Still, it’s in honor of his memory that she doesn’t sell and move on. She wants to try and make a go of it, not only for Shane’s memory, but also as a legacy for her sons. Frankly, it’s nice to read about a widowed heroine who loved her husband, worked beside him, misses him, and actually misses sex. Colin’s arrival awakens a lot of buried feelings.

While raised in privilege, Colin’s memories of Ireland are not happy ones. He drags his son halfway around the world in order for a fresh start, but is unable to work through his past. He’s attracted to Amanda’s spunk, work ethic, beauty and just the fact that she’s a good woman. These are nice people who deserve their happily ever after.

Original cover
The secondary characters help move the story along and add most of the conflict. Most notable are the children, who actually behave like children. Amanda’s sons want to help their mother, but given their young ages they’re a bit overwhelmed. The real standout though is Colin’s son, who adds another dimension to the story and takes on a more prominent role in the second half.

Langan has a tendency to wax poetic during the love scenes, most notably with Colin’s dialogue – but he’s a romantic Irishman, so that’s probably to be expected. And she merely wades in Purple Prose Lake instead of jumping in the deep end. The late 19th century Kentucky setting is drawn well, and should be just the ticket for readers who want an American historical, as opposed to a flat-out western or English setting. For sheer entertainment value, Ashes Of Dreams is a treat. The fact that Langan is a skilled writer certainly doesn’t hurt either.

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