(Lately, Miss Bates has been thinking about how reading interweaves with our everyday lives. Maybe it’s because she’s having onerous days at work, maybe because she’s nursing a wicked head cold, but she was very much aware of what it meant to come home quite late, after a long and difficult day, and find a book waiting for her. A romance novel, even as this one, Jodi Thomas’s Lone Heart Pass, without much romancy romance, without sexy times, and with a meandering cast of characters, often NOT the hero and heroine. And yet, it was viscerally satisfying to know that good will triumph, brokenness healed, loneliness assuaged, and families melded.)
Jodi Thomas’s Lone Heart Pass is romance #3 in the Ransom Canyon series. No one book stands out as memorable, but the series itself stays with Miss Bates as a place of refuge. After reading the third book, Miss Bates realized that each novel’s romantic central couple fades and the characters who remain are the ones who appear to us book in, book out: the lonely, stalwart Sheriff Brigman, his ethereal daughter Lauren, her love for the elusive Lucas Reyes, and the retired teachers of the Evening Shadows Retirement Home. Most of all, Miss Bates carries with her Thomas’s fictional town as a “crossroads,” also the town’s literal name (place names in Thomas’s series are allegorical) where hero and heroine leave the broken past behind (often covered in family enmity and strife) and build a new world of love and family; black sheep are taken in; and community is healed.
Thomas’s Ransom Canyon novels open and close with hero and heroine. When we’re introduced to them, hero and heroine are challenged by life’s vagaries, often despondent, more likely surviving than thriving. Lone Heart Pass opens with Jubilee Hamilton, at 26, her career already a wash-out (she’s a campaign manager), her fiancé a no-show (she barely notices his absence, so no loss there), and the new city-slicking owner of a dilapidated Texas ranch (inherited from a grandfather, the only family member who loved her for “herself alone”).
She packs her bags and goes to Texas to learn to ranch. Her crossroads are where “she’d start over where the wind never stopped blowing, and dust came as a side dish at every meal”. Except she doesn’t know a thing about running a ranch and she’s only got so much money to keep it going as she learns. Enter Charley Collins, single dad, disowned by his wealthy family, eking away every penny bar-tending and ranch-handing to buy land and make a life for his cutie-pie daughter, Lillie (mama abandoned them when Lillie was yet an infant). Jubilee and Charley’s meet-cute is a hoot, involving some pretty outlandish outfits and seeing Charley dub Jubilee “Mary Poppins”. His rueful impression of her continues with lovely little Thomas quips like, “She was her own private merry-go-round of emotions”.
If you’ve read the first two novels in the series, you’ll understand when Miss Bates says that Jubilee and Charley’s romance is interwoven with the canyon’s goings-on. A body is discovered, a mystery is solved by novel’s end, that wonderful sheriff character playing a role too. His daughter Lauren is finishing college, torn about what to do next, but not so much because she now finds how much she loves the canyon and is content to return to it. Her beloved Lucas reappears but things are ever-fated to go awry for them.
As always, Thomas creates a man-child character, one whose negligent family may send him “either way,” into a life on the streets or some place much better. Thatcher Jones, 14, captures and sells snakes, drives a beat-up pick-up truck, and makes truancy a religion. Miss Bates loves what Thomas does with her on-the-cusp-of-manhood characters: she gives them a moral core, an innate ability to love and protect, a goodness that goes against everything they’ve come from. And then, she gives us people who recognize that in them, in this case, the growing-in-love Charley and Jubilee. They take Thatcher in naturally and without any official fuss, the child set adrift encounters the couple learning to love and heal, and a precocious little girl without a mom. Thomas’s story of how they become a family, so right and true, is good.
There’s no room for cynicism in Thomas’s world. As a result, Miss Bates can see where some readers may find her work sentimental, her characters black-and-white, her worldview, naïve. For Miss Bates this week, these criticisms were offset by Thomas’s rueful humour, her faith in people’s goodness, her acknowledgement of people’s ornery resistance to goodness (oh yes, there be villains), and the genre’s stand for things working out. Like Maisey Yates’s Oregon-set Copper Ridge (much sexier, but as affirming of love and family), Thomas’s Ransom Canyon is not a world Miss Bates ever wants to quit. With her reading companion, Miss Austen, Miss Bates says of Thomas’s Lone Heart Pass, here is “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Jodi Thomas’s Lone Heart Pass is published by HQN Books. It was released on April 26 and may be purchased at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from HQN, via Netgalley.