Amazon discontinued the ability to create images using their SiteStripe feature and in their infinite wisdom broke all previously created images on 12/31/23. Many blogs used this feature, including this one. Expect my archives to be a hot mess of broken book cover images until I can slowly comb through 20 years of archives to make corrections.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Review: A Rancher Worth Remembering

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a minute knows I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with small town contemporaries.  OK, to be fair, I mostly have a love/hate relationship with small town single title contemporaries.  Category romance?  I'll gobble 'em up.  Why?  Well for one thing category romances have tighter word counts. There's less opportunity for an author to get the romance lost in the weeds of cutesy secondary characters doing cutesy things while somehow managing to keep the local cutesy cupcake shop a viable business in a town with a population of a few thousand.  
Where was I? Oh yes...

I wanted to talk about A Rancher Worth Remembering, Anna Grace's debut with the just-kisses Harlequin Heartwarming line.  It's a small town contemporary that does what Wendy likes them to do - it doesn't lose sight of the reason why I'm picking up the book in the first place (THE ROMANCE!) but it also delivers some well-done small town world-building.  

Jet Broughman is back in Outcrop, Oregon making a go of his grandfather's ranch. As a kid Jet bounced in and out of foster care until his grandfather took him in.  The old man was as good to Jet as he was capable of being. He was cared for, but let's just say the ability to display affection was not one of the man's stronger attributes.  Anyway, Jet became a local football hero, scored himself a college scholarship thanks to his smarts and ended up making a bunch of money doing tech work in Seattle. Now he's back home hoping to make the ranch profitable by selling local and catering to the farm-to-table crowd. It's all going according to plan until he's literally run over by a pretty young woman riding her bicycle.  And that pretty young woman?  Clara Wallace. The girl who stomped all over his heart back in high school.

Clara now runs a matchmaking service with her twin sister and she's very good at her job. She has a knack for helping folks ready to settle down find their perfect match.  She's scheduled to meet with a prospective new client at her brother's restaurant when she runs into (quite literally) Jet - the boy she totally screwed things up with in high school.  Worse yet?  Apparently her new client is Jet's BFF and Jet is just sure Clara is going to torpedo Michael's life like she did his all those years ago.  So they're prickly with each other from the jump, but damn if there still isn't some romantic tension sizzling below the surface.

Let's start with all the good stuff first, namely the world-building, which is dynamite.  I felt like I knew the town of Outcrop before I was even a quarter of the way through this book, complete with it's local hardware store where old men play checkers on the front porch, and Clara's brother's local restaurant that straddles the line between catering to the meat-and-potatoes and hipster crowds.  There's other local shops and a scene in the book that features a chamber-of-commerce-style street fair showing off those local businesses. It's all great and if you love small town romances you will gobble this up.

The romance is also good, assuming you're not pre-disposed to getting annoyed by a few things - namely grown adults still hung up on high school baggage.  I get it, it happens - it just didn't personally happen to me, so sometimes these storylines have me scratching my head a bit.  Grace does put a nice spin on it though, making the misunderstanding between Jet and Clara stem from his insecurities and her anxiety.  Clara is managing to live her life, she controls her anxiety fairly well, but it can flare up - and her blowing things with Jet all those years ago is a perfect example.

The other nice thing about the romance is that the characters are both fairly observant once they take their blinders off.  Once they start sharing their feelings, being a bit more open with each other, Jet lands on "Clara has anxiety" pretty much on his own.  Clara realizes that Jet has insecurities stemming from his childhood.  That said, that doesn't keep them from falling into bad habits to get to the third act separation (it's not a separation per se, they're not "together" - but it's a misunderstanding that spurs them towards the happy-ever-after) and that was a bit disappointing.  Again though, this stuff happens.

Finally, Harlequin Heartwarming is a just-kisses line.  It's a good fit for folks who want just-kisses but who aren't terribly keen on inspirationals because "God Stuff."  I like just-kisses as a rule, and I completely understand Clara has anxiety - but her relationship history (I'm talking never been kissed) and the fact that she runs a matchmaking service was a bit eye-rolling for me personally (it reminded me of the early Harlequin Blaze days when all the lingerie and sex toy designer heroines were virgins 🙄).  Your mileage may vary, of course.

That said, there was quite a bit I really liked here and I positively tore through the book.  The characters are nice and interesting, the world-building great, and Grace even mixes in light dollops of rom/com-humor with Jet's jail-breaking emus.  All this groundwork paid off because Clara's got three brothers and a twin sister, and I'm totally on board for the next two books, which are already scheduled for 2023.  It's the kind of cozy story that I lost myself in for a few hours, put a smile on my face, and pulled me out of any sour mood that was lurking around the edges.  I can't recommend it highly enough if you're a small town contemporary fan.

Final Grade = B


azteclady said...

The "virgin heroine running a matchmaking service" reminded me, funnily enough, of more than a few lates 80s/early 90s single title heroines (including a Sandra Brown lingerie house owner/designer).

But you know, in a shorter book, I'm inclined to be more forgiving.

Wendy said...

AL: Seriously, there was so much of it back in the day. It seemed like the default even as more recently as the early 2000s - which I realize now we're talking over 20 years ago 😭.