Wednesday, September 21, 2016

#TBRChallenge 2016: The Cowboy Way
The Book: The Cowboy Way by Anna Alexander

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, first book in series, 2014, Self-Published, In Print

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: This was an impulse grab at an RWA conference during their Indie Book Signing.  Either the 2014 or 2015 conference.  My cataloging notes for this title are non-existent.  Anyway it's a western, there's a guy wearing a cowboy hat on the cover - that was enough for me.

The Review:  I know some romance readers who have jumped whole-hog into self-publishing that they're literally only reading self-published authors these days.  I'm not one of those readers.  I have nothing against self-publishing.  I think it affords many exciting opportunities.  What I want is a good story and strong characters - whether it comes from a traditional print publisher, a smaller digital-first press or it's self-published, I don't rightly care.  The issue I see with some self-published books though is that they could strongly benefit from either a hard-a$$ beta reader and/or critique partner or the eye of a keen editor.  And that's kind of where I'm at with The Cowboy Way.

Ranch owner Trey Armstrong wakes up in the hospital.  Seems there was an accident.  His ranch hands got worried, went out to look for him, and found him on the ground, with a bloody head injury and his horse standing near by.  His accident, naturally, has repercussions.  While he remembers his name and some other details of his life - he's blanked out on a big one.  His wife.  Trey does not remember his wife, Greta.  The doctor says it will come back in time, and Trey goes home to begin unraveling the mystery that is his marriage.  But the more time he spends with Greta?  The more he realizes that it wasn't all sunshine and roses.  What happened between them?

Amnesia is a perenially popular trope in Romancelandia, but one that is especially hard to pull off.  In this instance, there's a good story here.  Alexander goes the smart route by not biting off more than she can chew.  Trey's amnesia is selective.  He remembers his ranch hands, but not his wife.  He remembers his old horse, but not his new one.  But his home office looks cold and impersonal.  He can't remember how to work a computer.  And the decorating in the house (namely the bedroom he supposedly shares with his wife) feels "off."  I honestly kept reading this story because I was curious about the secrets that Trey's amnesia was covering up.

Where this story didn't work was in character development - there really isn't any.  Trey and Greta never really elevate themselves past "characters."  There's never enough life breathed into them to make me feel like these could be "real people."  All I really know about Greta is that she's curvy like a 1950s pin-up and apparently the best cook in six counties.  Seriously all she seems to do in this story is cook for the men and have sex with her husband.

And that's the the other thing - the sex.  The reader knows immediately that this is a marriage that wasn't on the surest footing prior to the accident.  Trey may have selective amnesia, but Greta does not.  Greta knows what's been going on in her marriage.  This is a category length book (around 200 pages).  So given the baggage of the marriage going sour, and Trey's amnesia - the fact that these two jump into bed enough to warrant multiple sex scenes felt really off to me.  In fact the tone in general of this story is like a mash-up of a Harlequin Western (the former American line) and an erotic romance - and there's even flashback scenes tossed on to the fire.  It's not always an easy mix.

In the end I mostly kept reading this because I'm a sucker for marriage-in-trouble stories and I wanted the moment where Trey's amnesia is "cured" and he must confront what happened.  But these characters are just never fully fleshed.  I was completely ambivalent that this "stuff" was happening "to them."  As a reader, that's the goal.  I want to care about these people - and I finished this book feeling like I didn't even really know them.  They weren't real (and yes I know characters in a novel are never real but you all know what I mean...)

Is this the worst thing I've ever read?  No. Believe me, I've impulse-grabbed worse books at conferences.  But there wasn't anything here to light a fire under me to continue with this series or possibly investigate another book by this author. 

Mileage always varies on these types of reviews but....meh.

Final Grade = C-


Lynn Balabanos said...

"Anyway it's a western, there's a guy wearing a cowboy hat on the cover - that was enough for me."

LOL, that sounds like something I would say. Looking at the cover, I can definitely understand why it caught your eye.

Wendy said...

Lynn: I used to take every book offered to me at conferences - but I've gotten more discerning over the years. That said? I still tend to lose all self-control around 1) Harlequins and 2) westerns. Sometimes the impulse grabs work and sometimes....not so much.