Joan Kilby’s novella, Win Me, is one-third of an interesting rom-concept. Its events occur concurrently with those in Karina Bliss’s Woo Me and Sarah Mayberry’s Wait For Me. Together, the three novellas respectively recount the story of three friends attending a traditional Bachelor and Spinster Ball in the Australian outback. Ellie, Jen, and Beth forged their friendship in boarding school. They saw each other through farce and tragedy. Now, at 28, they’re in various stages of heartbreak. They congregate at Ellie’s father’s cattle farm and resolve to heal their broken, neglected hearts by romping through the bacchanalian shenanigans at the local Bachelor and Spinster Ball. These traditional “balls” are debauched and rowdy; ratafia is nowhere in sight and participants trip the light fantastic only between the flaps of a sleeping bag.
Win Me tells Ellie’s story. After six years in Wyoming, Ellie returns from proving her cattle-station-managing skills to take on her father’s spread and the wrangler she adores. Ellie’s loved Rick Drummond since her teens, when she made a pass at him at one of these very balls and was rejected. Rick has protected and loved Ellie since his family’s dissolution brought him to Norm McFarlane’s cattle station to work as a wrangler. A cautious, sad, upright man, Rick ensured he never succumbed to his attraction for Ellie – warned away by her father, as well as his conscience. But Ellie’s returned more vibrant, beautiful, and fully woman and his resolutions are biting the dust.
Kilby’s novella had the thankless task of setting up the tripartite story-line. Or at least Miss Bates hopes that’s the reason for the lackluster opening chapters. Ellie, Jen, and Beth lie on Ellie’s childhood bed and weep into jam jars of margaritas. Ellie confesses her life-long love of Rick and lack of confidence in her womanliness. Jen and Beth resolve to turn her into a bombshell for the ball and Ellie resolves to either finally do the wild thing with Rick, or find another guy to help excise him from her system. Rick, in turn, lusts after and loves Ellie. One lovely detail Miss Bates appreciated is how he kept her in his heart while she was away: “He glanced at the framed photo of her atop his dresser, next to the photo of his parents. Ellie, whose face he woke up to every day, and never moved or turned face down, even when he had another women in his bed.” For the most part however, the first few chapters are backstory and internal monologue. Ellie agonizes over Rick and Rick agonizes over Ellie. Moreover, Rick’s family tragedy, which left them destitute and scattered, haunts him. His need for financial security is sympathetic, but the class barriers he erects between himself, the “cowhand,” and Ellie, the rancher’s daughter, sound ludicrous in a contemporary romance.
Nevertheless, the narrative improves once the ball is underway. Ellie, Jen, and Beth are amusing. Rick’s best friend, Jack, is a rueful rogue (Miss Bates’ favourite kind) and adds yet more fun to the narrative. Ellie appears in a sexy dress and flirts with Jack, the ball degenerates in compelling ways, and Rick reacts with he-man jealousy. At least the initial chapters’ endless “telling, not showing” nature is put to rest. (Remember, rom writers, the declarative sentence is your enemy.) Sadly, the narrative goes downhill in other ways. Firstly, Ellie and everyone around her fixates on her magnificent breasts. Once, twice, but the sundry times the “puppies” are mentioned are tedious. To follow, the love scenes are described in yee-haw bronco-riding figuration – nuff said, right? It’s neither sexy nor romantic. It is risible and crude. Then, angst of such proportions is introduced, it changes the novella’s tenor abruptly and disjointedly.
And yet, dear readers, Miss Bates was touched by Rick’s humble grovel. She remains convinced of the efficacy of Rick and Ellie’s life-long HEA. In a nutshell, Kilby’s novella is uneven, but not without merit. With Miss Austen, Miss Bates says, “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey. Joan Kilby’s Win Me was self-published. It has been available since October 20th, 2015, and may be procured from your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful for copies of the series from the authors. Stay tuned for reviews of Woo Me and Wait For Me.