Nicole Helm’s Cowboy Seal Homecoming gave me exactly what I was looking for: Helm’s brand of emotional honesty, quirky animals, uber-masculine heroes whose mission is to set the world aright, heroines who call them on their bullshit and yet don’t shame them for their vulnerabilities, and a beautifully -rendered rural setting, in this case, rancher-country Montana. Honorably discharged wounded warrior hero Alex Maguire comes home to his deceased father’s ranch. He claims an inheritance he shares with heroine Becca Denton, who found, in Burt Maguire’s ranch, a home and father. Now, she’s invited her stranger stepbrother to share in a joint project, creating a therapeutic ranch for war veterans like Alex and the two buddies (sequel-bait!) he brings along on his and Becca’s venture, Jack Armstrong and Gabe Cortez. As far as the romance’s outer trappings are concerned, originality isn’t what makes them up. But then, what romance’s tropes, trappings, and narrative structure do that? The romance’s attraction lies in all the ways the story can be told of how two alone become one united and fulfilled. Continue reading
Sarah M. Anderson’s hokey-titled One Rodeo Season is anything but. What starts as a fun little rodeo-meet-cute between Ian Tall Chief, bullfighter, and Lacy Evans, stock contractor, turns from a “no-strings” relationship to friendship and love, from rom-lite to considered romance novel about identity, cleaving to others, and negotiating commitment. Ian Tall Chief works as a bullfighter when he’s not working at the S. Dakota Real Pride ranch. Lacy Evans is a rodeo stock contractor when she’s not at the Wyoming Straight Arrow ranch she recently inherited from her parents. From their first meeting, Ian is Lacy’s protector and defender. She’s threatened by a powerful rancher, Slim Smalls, and hit on by a slimeball. Ian rushes in where “angels fear to tread,” his former-football muscles standing between Lacy and a world of hurt. But Lacy is a tough cookie, and comes at Ian from the get-go: “Who was she? Someone tiny and fierce and unafraid of him.” Lacy is “fierce,” gauche, a loner, but the attraction between them is undeniable. Except. There be inner turmoil for Lacy and Ian. The inner turmoils’ sources are deep and troubling. They make building a commitment-based relationship unfeasible. Ian charms and gently compels skittish Lacy to a friendship. While Lacy vehemently declares her ability to care for herself, she knows Smalls’ threat and her own precarious emotional state dictate she accept Ian’s help and protection. Ian and Lacy are one of Miss Bates’s favourite couple-combinations: Ian is charming, funny, and knight-in-shining-armor. He has a wide circle of friends, makes friends easily, fits comfortably in his huge clan, and is a looker. Lacy, on the other hand, is solitary, awkward with people, lacks social graces, and plain.
After Miss Bates read the first few chapters of Nicole Helm’s Rebel Cowboy, she thought, “I get it. This is what happens when you cross Molly O’Keefe with Maisey Yates.” At times, Helm felt derivative; at others, uniquely her writerly self. Helm writes a hockey-playing hero and that’s one kind of hero Miss Bates never passes up. No one writes about the game’s darkness as O’Keefe does; if you’re looking for that kind of profound understanding in hero Dan Sharpe, you ain’t gonna get it. On the other hand, Helm offers a rich narrative, balancing guffaw-inspiring humour with wrenching angst.
Dan Sharpe’s and Mel Shaw’s legacies are Montana ranches. Mel’s cared for the land and animals her entire life: “On her eighteenth birthday … her father … told her, someday, what lay below would be hers. It had all been very Lion King.” Ten years later, Mel’s “Lion King” moment has turned nightmare: ” … a barely surviving ranch, a delinquent brother determined to burn every Shaw bridge, an injured and withdrawn father, thousands of dollars in medical bills, and livestock that needed to be cared for … These days it felt more like a noose than a gift.” Mel leaves the Shaw ranch in brother Caleb’s less-than-capable hands to rent her ranching know-how to Dan, whose Chicago hockey career is imploding with rumours of cheating. Ranching expert meets ranching wannabe. Continue reading