REVIEW: Marin Thomas’s A COWBOY OF HER OWN, Or Girl Gets to Have It All

Cowboy_of_Her_OwnMarin Thomas’s A Cowboy Of Her Own is the final volume in her Cash Brothers series and it shows. There are plenty of brothers, wives, and babies peopling the narrative, though the first half focuses near-exclusively on the hero, baby brother Porter, and heroine, Wendy Chin. Thomas is a new-to-Miss-Bates category author and she was loathe to read this romance: she’s not keen on entering a series at the end and, frankly, she’s tired of cowboys. Cowboys seem to have taken over from the military, or ex-military heroes that were de rigueur in contemporary romance. (Now that our countries are once again embroiled in various Middle East conflicts, they should reappear.) Nevertheless, there were other deviations from the norm in Thomas’s romance that proved most interesting.

Though it’s a frequently-used trope, opposites-attract is one of Miss B.’s favourites for its potential banter-conflict. In Thomas’s hero and heroine, we have a bad-boy/good-girl pairing; with a Chinese-American heroine, the appeal turned out more original than your generic white-middle-class female protagonist. Thomas manages a nice set-up in the first chapter: “He was more interested in partying and working only when he needed money to fill the gas tank or treat a buckle bunny to a night on the town. Wendy was Porter’s polar opposite. She was a go-getter and a staylater at the job” and “As an only child and a daughter, she felt the weight of her parents’ high expectations of her. The constant pressure to climb the proverbial career ladder was overwhelming.” Add a romance-unusual profession for heroine, insurance adjuster, and a hero who transports cattle from rodeo to rodeo; add a mystery plot involving disappearing valuable cattle and you have a nice combination of narrative threads. When Wendy’s boss asks her to ride-along with Porter to unmask the cattle-rustling culprit, we have, in turn, a road romance.

Wendy’s internal conflict is established in the first chapter: “Wendy walked a fine line between two worlds, struggling to balance embracing the American way of life while still respecting her Chinese ancestry.” Miss Bates enjoyed this Wendy-conflict: as the only daughter of first generation European immigrants, Miss B. is familiar with the push-pull quandary between loyalty to the past and forging a North American identity. What didn’t make sense to Miss Bates is that Wendy’s parents are American born-and-bred. Witness the following passage: “Wendy had grown up watching her parents toil in the flower shop seven days a week, year after year, and that wasn’t the life she dreamed of.” Surely, second-generation immigrants’ children have absorbed something of the culture around them? Why endow them with the newly-arrived immigrants’ anxieties? While Miss Bates enjoyed reading Wendy and liked the conflict, this aspect didn’t make sense to her. If Miss Bates weren’t a spinster and had children, she certainly wouldn’t be as rigidly averse to their marrying someone outside her ancestral culture. When Porter enters the picture, Wendy’s parents’ dislike and disapproval are dragged out and then abruptly dismissed. Thomas adds one nuance Miss B. appreciated: Wendy realizes she uses her parents as a shield to her heart, to Porter’s love … because, here we go again … she was hurt by a college boyfriend. Porter has a similar story to tell about a former girlfriend and that way of keeping the lovers apart was plain old romance clichéd.

Porter and Wendy’s road trip in the first half of the novel is a delight. The close confines of the truck result in fun scenes and amusing verbal exchanges. Wendy’s diminutive size is cause for some fun when she has to get into the truck-cab: “Even if she took a running leap, she wouldn’t be able to dive onto the floor … he hoisted her into the air. She teetered off balance and made a valiant swipe at the handle inside the passenger door, but missed and pitched forward.” Or when Wendy is trapped in a truck-stop bathroom, then rescued by Porter: ” … Wendy perched on top of the toilet tank, texting away on her phone. ‘Thanks for freeing me.’ She hopped off the toilet, inched past him and stepped outside, where she sucked in a breath of fresh air … marched back to the truck, a strip of toilet paper stuck to the heel of her shoe fluttering in the air like a kite tail.” Wendy’s combination of pluckiness and sang-froid is a great character-trait pairing. It’s easy to see why Porter is charmed. Miss Bates also liked it that Porter daydreams about Wendy: it’s welcoming for the hero to woolgather thus: ” … the sparkle in her brown eyes had triggered a few fantasies – riding horses in the mountains together, taking a walk through the pecan groves, the two of them sitting in the front seat of his truck listening to a Luke Bryan CD.” Even Miss B. doesn’t listen to CDs anymore and she doesn’t know who Luke Bryan is, but it was refreshing to have a hero fantasize about doing stuff with the heroine instead of doing stuff to the heroine.

The final verdict? Thomas’s A Cowboy Of Her Own was better in the first half. The second half turned angsty and less fun and endearing. The road trip, courtship, and mystery of the cattle rustling bonded Wendy and Porter and sustained a light-hearted yet heart-string-pulling mood. In the second half, the blockages to love, derivative and romance clichéd, reigned. Wendy pushed Porter away, pleading her parents’ expectations and hurt from the first boyfriend. Porter entered a de trop thread in the narrative that involved the discovery of his biological father. He persisted in his love for Wendy, but Wendy’s push-away kept the lovers apart too much. Porter indulged in bouts of lack of self-worth and pain-filled memories of being used and dumped by “Veronica,” the ex. Sundry characters appear, including a plethora of Cash brothers, and interfere in Porter and Wendy’s relationship. In turn, Porter and brothers’ contemptuous attitude towards “buckle bunnies,” as opposed to “good” women, grated to no end. Ditto for the persistent dissing of their promiscuous mother, ironically named Aimée. Porter, Wendy, her parents, his brothers: they all doth protest way too much. Miss Bates can’t understand why sexual virtue has to be established before the HEA can come about? Yet, A Cowboy Of Her Own was not a total loss; Miss Austen deems it “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.

Marin Thomas’s A Cowboy Of Her Own, available since January 6th, is published by Harlequin, and procurable in your preferred format at the usual vendors. Miss Bates gratefully received an e-ARC, from Harlequin, via Netgalley.

8 thoughts on “REVIEW: Marin Thomas’s A COWBOY OF HER OWN, Or Girl Gets to Have It All

  1. “Wendy had grown up watching her parents toil in the flower shop seven days a week, year after year, and that wasn’t the life she dreamed of.” That sentence by itself doesn’t establish that Wendy’s parents are second generation, just that Wendy was born in the US. Her parents could have been born in China and emigrated to the US.

    I’d also say that there is a culture gap between many East Asians — even second generation ones — and the rest of (North) America in the sense that academics, scholarship, and excelling at whatever one does is a huge part of the culture, whereas these things are not a huge part of North American culture. So someone who doesn’t appear to embody those values may be viewed suspiciously. This knowledge comes courtesy of my Korean-American family; my father and his eight (count ’em, eight) sisters were second-generation, and yet I and my cousins have been known to decry our almost biological commitment to excellence and doing things the hard way. Which is why one of my cousins was elected high school president in a predominantly white school district; everyone knew he’d get stuff done, which you couldn’t say about the other candidates.

    While I doubt I’ll look for this, it’s refreshing to see a category romance with a non-white/Asian heroine. I’m equally as happy as you are that the male MC thinks about doing something with the heroine rather than to her. There’s way too much equation of sexual attraction with love going around. Sexual attraction alone isn’t enough to sustain a relationship long-term. By the same token, though, it’s disheartening to see sexual virtue continue to be something the female character must prove to be worthy of lasting love. Let’s not even get into the question of what is a lasting love and whether it’s realistic to expect it. *Cue comments I just made on Liz Mc2’s blog.*

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    • I agree with you: my best friend in high school was Chinese-Canadian, born and bred right here, but she was way more hard-working and driven than I was. Her parents, who were born in China, were so hard-working and frugal, they’d walk three miles to work and back to save bus fare. My Greek-born immigrant parents were positively decadent by taking the bus to work. That’s why it didn’t make sense to me, because Marin specifically tells us that Wendy’s parents are American-born. So, the toiling and the ethos weren’t totally convincing. I don’t understand why Marin didn’t have Wendy’s parents born in China? Now my HS friend (btw, we’re still friends, just not besties because her lawyer-career doesn’t allow her much time for friendship) has the same drive, but lost the frugality and certainly wouldn’t have a problem with her children marrying outside her culture. (As a matter of fact, her husband is Irish!)

      That being said, yes, like you, I thought there were some refreshing elements: like the hero’s fantasies and this funny, lovely heroine. Sadly, I think the conventions of the category novel and the division of good and bad women seems to be so embedded that I despair. Thank you for the stupendous, thought-provoking comment!

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  2. Miss B, I really enjoyed your commentary and the comment by Lawless above. While it is great to see an Asian-American heroine here, the multi-layered disparity really makes it hard for me to believe this as a long-term HEA. I totally believe in the attraction of the H/H for each other and the short-term desire for companionship and marriage.

    However, for the long-term stability of the marriage? Once the children come? I can’t buy it. Look at her education and his lack thereof. Look at the cultural ethics. Look at their notion of fiscal responsibility. She’s the epitome of stability; he’s the opposite. In every which way, they’re poles apart. Mixed marriages work (mine is one) where there’re some points where you do have a commonality.

    As far as Wendy’s parents go, they behave like first generation immigrants.

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    • I really enjoyed your comment: thank you! Ah, sigh, I’d like to think that things work out for Wendy and Porter, I’d like to be a romantic about their relationship. Porter will at least continue to think that he’s not good enough for Wendy and will do his damnedest to make her happy and take responsibility for doing so. Without indulging in spoilers, Porter does have some sense of where he wants to go with his life pre-Wendy and it’s a good place: there’s unfortunately a deus ex machina that brings it all about, but one hopes he’ll stick with the plan. He certainly does his darn best to show Wendy how he’s brought his life to a more mature level. And I like that there’re only two years apart between Porter and Wendy, his 28 to her 26, so he’s just starting to grow up. He’s a good guy at heart and very much aware of his shortcomings. Wendy, in turn, sees Porter as her way of outgrowing her parents’ expectations and doing something wholly for herself for once. Which is why she sleeps with him … but is surprised when she realizes she’s in love with him.

      As for Wendy’s parents: it seemed the obvious choice to make them first-generation immigrants, confusing, or bad call, not sure, but it didn’t convince.

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        • I hope so, though I agree that while the HEA is de rigueur in romance, it isn’t always thoroughly convincing in every romance narrative. I also think it’s important that Porter’s brothers let him do things on his own. They tend to baby him. If Wendy’s parents, though it’s an abrupt turn-around, accept Porter, that’ll also go a long way to entrenching their marriage. The HEA, by the way, is quite original and cute!

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  3. Thomas is one of those authors that others seem to like and….she doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried two books by her and, while her writing style was pleasing, I had major issues with plot and characters. One was a one-star read and the other squeaked by with a C- rating only because it ended on a strong note (Rescue Fantasy Heroine finds a spine at the end). So, yeah. I keep getting tempted by her books when I see a new release (what can I say? I love me some cowboys!) but in category romance, where there are SO many choices, I figure two books that really didn’t work for me is a good litmus test.

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    • I suspect then that I liked this better than you would have. You’re right, the writing is really strong. Other elements not so much, though I appreciated her writing Wendy. Porter’s story went off the rails. So many books, so many beloved possibilities that I hear ya, not to want to read an acknowledging of merit where it’s due, but overall meh. I might try another, but I can’t say I’m eagerly awaiting the next one. Now that’s damning with faint praise, I guess.

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