Marin 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.