Wednesday, November 20, 2019

#TBRChallenge 2019: Her Knight in the Outback

The Book: Her Knight in the Outback by Nikki Logan

Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Romance #4466, 2015, Out of print, Available in digital

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: It's not autographed and I've switched over to digital for nearly all my Harlequin reading desires - so I suspect I picked this up impulsively in a used bookstore (yes, those do still exist) or a library book sale.  The cover and back cover blurb caught my eye.

The Review: I have a fair amount of baggage that I lug around thanks to my love of Harlequins. Not only do I take crap from people who sneer at romance in general, but I take crap from romance readers who sneer at Harlequin. Fun times!  This book though - this is the sort of book I like to keep in reserve and chuck at people (aiming for their heads, although they are obviously empty and it probably wouldn't do much damage - but whatevs...) when they dismiss category romance out of hand.  There's an emotional heft to this story (yes, despite the cutesy cover image) and the ending is not pat nor easy.  I'll be thinking about this book for a while.

Evelyn "Eve" Read's younger brother is missing and the police aren't remotely close to potentially finding him.  He's 18 (still a kid in Eve's eyes) with a history of depression and anxiety.  Their alcoholic mother dead thanks to a motorcycle accident (that Travis witnessed) and their father broken down by life, Eve decides to sell her house, quit her job, and buys a converted bus/RV.  She's going to paper every town in Australia with fliers of her missing brother, hunt up leads, find him and bring him home.

It's on a lonely stretch of highway that she meets Marshall Sullivan after his motorcycle has an altercation with an emu.  He's dressed in leather (smart man) with an overgrown beard and at least one tattoo (that she can see).  She's naturally wary.  Words are exchanged, bargains struck, and Eve drives him to the next town for help.  Of course their paths keep on crossing and of course they are soon traveling together.

Marshall is one of those great heroes who isn't who he appears to be.  He's hit the road on his bike for work.  He's a meteorologist (yes, really) who volunteered to check out various weather stations across the country.  It's a way for him to separate himself from his past, a brother and mother he's cut off communication with (for reasons...) and an ex-girlfriend who did him wrong.  So he knows something about being closed off emotionally and he immediately connects with Eve on that level even though our girl is a mess.

Eve is a woman on a desperate mission, consumed by her brother's disappearance, desperate to find him, and is basically no longer living any sort of life.  Marshall knows she cannot keep going down the path she's traveling, but our girl is stubborn and HER BROTHER IS MISSING!  It's hard to think of more compelling conflict and it's easy to understand why Eve is the way she is even if, intellectually, you know that Marshall is right on a basic level.  They slowly and cautiously develop a connection and relationship in just a few short weeks, but when feet are put to the fire, how can they possibly move forward?  Eve will never give up her quest to find Travis and Marshall knows this.

The Black Moment in this book is suitably black and simply gut-wrenching.  It's one of the few that I've read in a long while that feel utterly hopeless.  As in "how the heck can this story end happily?" hopeless.  And I think that's what makes this romance so notable.  Here's the thing, I've criticized many a romance in my day where the characters didn't need a romance - they needed therapy.  And these characters?  Yes, they do need therapy.  But here's the important distinction - while I do think life won't necessarily be sunshine and roses all the time for them?  I think they're stronger together and that these two crazy kids will actually weather any storm that comes their way.  She has issues, he has issues, and while I see arguments and more hurtful Black Moments in their future?  I have every confidence that they're a couple that could come out the other side, stronger for it.

There's some passionate kissing in this story, but true to the Harlequin Romance line the sex is of the closed door variety and the mystery of what happened to brother Travis is resolved (nondescript spoiler: he's found alive).  While I love a good road romance, what I'll remember most about this book is how emotionally gut-wrenching The Black Moment is - when the hero and heroine are driven apart and need to find their way back to each other.  It does come perilously close to a hero "telling" the heroine what's best for her, but Logan writes it the only way I think she possibly could have and both characters need to meet in the middle to close the distance between them.  Very well done, and now I've off to scour my unorganized digital TBR to see if I've got any more Nikki Logan books waiting to be discovered.

Final Grade = B+


Jill said...

I love Harlequin Romance (especially the original line) and I love that you're always advocating for it! I may have to check this one out, I've gotten way behind in my Harlequin reading.

I feel like I'm a broken record about this, but I tried a reprinted traditional regency for the challenge (I have dozens unread on my Kindle) and was disappointed. This one was "The Best Intentions" by Candice Hern.

A widower who wants to get married again (but not fall in love again of course) is in search of an older, worldly wife who won't crave romance. A woman fitting just that description visits his country home, but she happens to have a fresh-faced hoydenish younger sister. Spoiler alert for Yeah, you can see where this is going.

I don't necessarily mind May-December romances (Emma is one of my favorite books of all time), but I felt a lot of this rang a little weird when I was reading it in 2019. The heroine wasn't just younger, she was almost childlike? And she was contrasted to her older sister in way that was very unflattering. The older sister let the hero kiss her and somehow that made her promiscuous and shallow, but the same judgement wasn't put on the hero. I realize the double standard is probably historically accurate, but it was hard to take, especially when something similar was said about another older female character in a similar context in the same book. Apparently these men just trip over themselves and smack body parts against women.

Dorine said...

It has been a long time since I've read this line, but I've enjoyed most I've read. Sounds like a good one to get me back on track with them. I love a really good black moment that's gut-wrenching. Great review!

Wendy said...

Jill: I read this in one day and immediately wanted to binge through some more HRs.

Oof on the trad Regency. Yeah, there was tendency to festishize "innocent" and "child-like" in the genre back in the day and it was SO not aged well. I had to DNF an older western I tried to read either earlier this year or last year for the same reason.

Dorine: This Black Moment practically ripped my guts out. I loved it! LOL

Dorine said...

Oh good on the black moment. I love those. I bought this one. Thanks for the rec!