Miss Bates reveled in reading Maisey Yates’ Shoulda Been A Cowboy like a piglet in her sty. She loved reading and reviewing Laurie R. King’s Dreaming Spies, but it felt good to put on her romance-reading slippers and settle into her favourite genre. She had a moue of disappointment when she noticed that Yates’ story was a novella – not enough, dammit. But she was also glad to see Yates charm her all over again, after a one-too-many sheikh-set duds. Though only a soupçon of romance reading, Shoulda Been A Cowboy delivered a bad-boy-good-girl-unresolved-HS-attraction-prodigal-son-return romance, all beloved romance tropes. Hero Jake Caldwell returns to his home town, Copper Ridge, Oregon, after a fifteen-year absence, to sell his inheritance, a run-down ranch and a few dilapidated buildings. One of those buildings has been given new life by leasee heroine, Cassie Ventimiglia, who runs a coffee shop on the premises, The Grind, and lives in one of the apartments. Jake and Cassie share a history beyond being from the same town. Cassie tutored Jake when they were in high school together, when he was resident heart-throb and bad boy, his Johnny “Wild One” to her “Kathie.”
Miss B. enjoys a bad-boy-good-girl romance because of the opportunities it affords to portray the main characters’ transformation. Yates done good in Shoulda Been A Cowboy by coupling the trope with a returning black sheep hero and unresolved history with the heroine. This enriched the narrative with the characters’ nostalgia and regret. In the good-girl-bad-boy trope, the protagonists are given a character arc wherein one moves away from social strictures and inhibitions to achieve a new freedom and the other moves toward fidelity, domesticity, and commitment, respectively. Of course, the binder in this recipe is love. The good-girl, Cassie, leaves her straitjacket of a persona behind and goes after what she wants, Jake. Shedding sexual inhibitions and lack of confidence, her kindness and loyalty remain, and those are attractive to a man starved for love and belonging.
Though it’s only a snippet of romance (and Miss B. can’t say she embraces the novella trend to début a series, but this was better than most), Yates does this well. One of the ways the trope allows her to excel is with an opening rife with irony. For example, Jake declares to Cassie, ” ‘I’m not going to stay here and play cowboy. It’s not my thing.’ ” Hardy-har, says the reader, you’re going to fall and fall hard, my man, for the heroine, town, and promise of love! The signs of Jake’s bending/relenting/softening are entangled with a bad-boy who’s really good at heart. The one who sees him differently, better, is heroine, Cassie, “A girl who might be into him, not because he was all wrong, but because something about him was right.” To be recognized, not to be subject to labels, or stultifying stereotypes, is part of what the trope accomplishes. Bad-boy and good-girl are released through their burgeoning relationship to be truly themselves.
Miss Bates preferred the first half of Coulda Been A Cowboy over the second, though she enjoyed it overall and looks forward to read Part Time Cowboy and follow-ups. The main reason why she enjoyed the first half particularly is Yates’ humour and great hand at dialogue. From the get-go, Cassie’s diffidence and humour were a hit, “She didn’t need to spend any more time looking at him. She needed to take inventory of her soy milk.” This self-effacing humour, already endearing, gives way to zippy banter as Cassie gains in confidence. Jake comes to The Grind every morning for his Americano and muffin:
“The only kind of muffin I have left is blueberry.”
“That’s fine.” He shifted his weight from one foot to another and for some reason she found it fascinating. “Every muffin you’ve ever served me has been delicious.”
Cassie nearly choked. “I’m glad you like my … muffins.” For some reason it all sounded dirty.
… “There’s nothing to dislike about your muffins.”
She sucked in a sharp breath and choked on it, coughing violently. She turned her head to the crook of her elbow, trying to suppress it. “Sorry.” She patted her chest as she grabbed the portafilter from the espresso machine. “Swallowed wrong.”
There’s a lovely naturalness and self-deprecating humour to hero and heroine. While the sex scenes are plentiful for a novella, it’s their banter that convinces the reader of their affection. Yates segues nicely into their darker, more painful pasts, pasts beautifully handled involving Jake’s dad and Cassie’s mom. There’s a point, though, where the novella dissatisfied Miss Bates: Jake’s harping on his unworthiness and the somewhat overhasty falling into love of the heroine. The neatly-wrapped-package quality of the epilogue didn’t help matters. Don’t get Miss B. wrong: the HFN is not for her. A couple can be left with a ring on the heroine’s finger and a guarantee of happiness, but it doesn’t have to be all rosy beyond that. Miss Austen says Maisey Yates’ Shoulda Been A Cowboy is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Maisey Yates’ Shoulda Been A Cowboy is published by HQN books. It’s been available since March 1st at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to HQN for an e-ARC, via Netgalley.