Wednesday, January 20, 2021

#TBRChallenge 2021: Roping in the Cowgirl

 The Book: Roping in the Cowgirl by Judy Duarte

The Particulars: Harlequin Special Edition #2505, 2016, book 1 in series, out of print, available in digital.

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Duarte is a local author for me. I have an autographed copy which means I picked this up at a conference - likely RWA 2016 (San Diego) given the publication date.

The Review

CW: domestic violence

There is magic in a well-executed category romance, which makes them ideal comfort reading for me.  After a so-fast-your-head-will-spin DNF on my first choice, I randomly picked up this book which, conveniently enough, is the first book in a series.  It wasn't perfect, but I read this in one sitting.

Blake Darnell is a workaholic who has made partner at a prestigious Beverly Hills law firm and he's just gotten a letter from his Uncle Sam firing him as overseer of the family trust. After his wife died, Sam fell into a tail-spin, nearly dying himself - until he landed in a retirement home catering to retired cowboys and ranchers.  It's also a working ranch and Sam was named foreman.  He's thriving and has found love again with a younger woman.  Blake is concerned and frankly, projecting.  He recently got burned by a gold-digger ex, so naturally given his "firing" he suspects that's what's going on with Uncle Sam.  So he has his assistant clear his calendar and buy him a one-way ticket to Texas to sort it all out.

Things get off on the wrong foot when he arrives and meets the temporary head nurse, Shannon Cramer - who just so happens to be the niece of the woman Sam has fallen in love with.  Joy (who is 60) and Sam (who is 80) are genuinely happy and in love.  Shannon thinks anybody with eyeballs should be able to see that, but Blake - with his slick city polish and pessimism thinks shenanigans are afoot.  Naturally sparks fly between Blake and Shannon and even after Blake comes around on the old folks' relationship, his attraction to Shannon remains complicated. Shannon is country girl through and through, with no desire to leave Texas - and Blake's life is in California.

I loved the concept of this book, a retirement home for cowboys, and there's several secondary characters who liven up the proceedings. The romance between Sam and Joy and Blake and Shannon are also nice. That said....

Both Sam and Blake are pretty dense at times.  Blake assumes the worst in everybody and of course one gold-digger ex has shaded his opinion of Joy before having even met her.  But Sam is no better.  He's pissed at Blake mainly because he's a workaholic who has neglected his Texas family.  Um, HE'S TRYING TO MAKE PARTNER IN A BEVERLY HILLS LAW FIRM!  Should Blake get a free pass for being unable to balance his work life with everything else?  No.  But I did think the old coot could have cut his nephew a little slack.

This isn't perfect, but it's a largely pleasant read until an unexpected Very Dark Moment comes in out of left field towards the end.  I'm going to spoil it because I think it's worth spoiling.  Towards the end a severely battered, and pregnant, woman shows up at the ranch looking for one of the ranch hands.  She ends up delivering her baby prematurely and slips into a coma - not expected to live.  She doesn't die on page - but she will die, because this is all set-up for the second book in the series (I looked it up).  It's upsetting, with absolutely no foreshadowing.  I had the reaction of "wow, this came out of left field...." - I can only imagine how jarring it would be for a reader who 1) wasn't expecting it and 2) has a history with domestic violence.  I normally do my best to avoid spoilers in my reviews - but I'm making an exception here.

The romance turns out right as rain in the end, and while the men annoyed me from time to time, I did largely enjoy this story.  I also really liked the world and will likely continue on with the series. Out of nowhere domestic violence aside, it was a pleasant read.

Final Grade = B-


Jill said...

Yay! TBR day!

Wow, yeah. I think I would spoil that too. I read a romance that had a similar plot thread recently and I didn't even finish it. It's just not something I enjoy reading in a romance. I'll leave it at that.

For my challenge I read A CHRISTMAS KNIGHT by Kate Hardy, a medical romance. The heroine was Louisa, a nurse practitioner who is a single mom. Her son has autism (or Asperger's as it is called in this book written many years ago). The hero is Dominic, an ER physician who is carrying around a lot of guilt b/c he accidentally caused his brother's paralysis in a jousting accident. Yes, really, see the title above. Of course, the two of them shouldn't be together, but there's an attraction and Louisa's little boy happens to love horses and Dominic can help get him into a riding program. . .

This was probably a C read for me. I guess? Kate Hardy does *not* write very macho "walk all over" the heroine alpha heroes. Which is good for me! But she often does write a lot of angsty guilt to create conflict. The hero in this is very into wearing the hair shirt over the fact he was the cause of an accident that changed his brother's life forever.
The heroine has a lot of angst over the fact she can't possibly ever have a relationship b/c her son and his needs come first.

I'm not saying their feelings aren't valid, but using other people's disabilities just as props to create conflict has me feeling some kind of way in 2021. My older son is autistic, so I have Many Thoughts about how autism was spoken of in this book. I'll leave it at that. But it is a 10 + year old book and I'm not going to try to hold an older Harlequin (with a very short word count!) to the same standards I would have for a modern book. I was disgruntled, but I finished it. YMMV, as I always say.

I will say this, I read this at very stressful time for our country (even going by the last few years, if you know what I mean) and it was a relief to read something simple in one sitting. I liked the details about horseback riding and she pulled off a nice ending, where everything came together neatly, which I think is the sign of a real pro when it comes to category romance.


Whiskeyinthejar said...

Blake assumes the worst in everybody and of course one gold-digger ex has shaded his opinion of Joy before having even met her.

Ugh, I get so sick of the characters that have one bad experience and completely demonize the next person because of it; once burned, twice FOREVER BURNING EVERYONE IN AN INFERNO.

Your spoiler was wild too, traumatic moments without the depth and levity they deserve only for some set-up never land right for me.

eurohackie said...

How weird! I chose His Secondhand Wife by Cheryl St. John as my pick this month (because St. John is one of my go-to authors when I want a nice, comfortable, low-drama romance) and it takes place at a ranch called the Rockin' C.

I love St. John, but I didn't love this book - I've already sent it along to its next owner via PBS. It was a "meh" read for me - nothing has quite reached the exquisiteness that is "The Doctor's Wife" for me yet (tho I have a lot of her backlist in Mount TBR) but I really enjoy her books in general, so will continue to read them. I don't consider this a miss, just knocking another book off the pile. And if I can make someone else happy by passing it along, hey - bonus win! :)

Dorine said...

Happy New Year, everyone! Good to see we're all dwindling our piles. So weird about the last minute domestic violence. That's my only complaint about category, that sometimes things come out of left field out of necessity for series continuity. But, that doesn't stop me from having a pile of them to read. Eurohackie - I love St. John's books, too. Sorry this one didn't work for you. I haven't read her books in years, so I have some catching up to do!

eurohackie said...

Dorine - I've definitely liked more of St. John's books than I've disliked, and when I like them, I tend to LOVE them, LOL. I found a rec for "The Doctor's Wife" somewhere (I can't remember where now) and when I found a copy at my local secondhand store, I grabbed it up. It was my first by her and so far, the favorite (though a couple others have come close). I've been gathering her backlist for a couple of years now, so I still have quite a few to try, and hopefully savor :)

Dorine said...

That's awesome, Eurohackie. I know I read quite a few in the early 2000s, but that was before I kept track and I forget which ones I read. LOL Which means after that amount of time, they'll be like-new-to-me. I really like her style, so thanks for reminding me to get back to her books. I know you'll have many hours of enjoyment coming.

Wendy said...

Jill: Hardy is one of those writers that others seem to really enjoy but she tends to float around "OK" for me. I haven't disliked anything (yet) but I also haven't found a book yet that landed above a B- for me. I've got a couple more of hers in my TBR that I'll read, but she's not an author I actively seek out as an autobuy.

Whiskey: Yeah, this kind of thing annoys me too - although to Blake's credit he starts to clue in fairly quickly. Although really, he would have to. Special Editions only clock in around 220 pages LOL

Eurohackie: I remember when that book came out a lot of folks really LOVED it. I read it back then and "liked it" - but it didn't knock my socks off like some of her others. And now, all these years later I recall NOTHING about it. It's a blank slate in my reading memory.

If you haven't read it yet, my favorite St. John to date is Prairie Wife. Oh man, I LOVED that one!

Dorine: Oh yes, it's a tricky format to write - and one of the reasons I really like reading them, because when you find an author who hits their beats and delivers? Oh, it's soooooo good.