In Kelly Eileen Hake's latest novel, Jess Culpepper, the daughter of a Texas rancher, was shuffled off to finishing school in England after an accident that left her and her father injured. After waiting for years for her father to send for her and bring her home, she receives word that he has died and that she is to stay with her grandparents until her brother can spare the time to fetch her. However, Jess is tired of waiting impatiently, so she hops a ship to the States and heads home to Texas. Several surprises await her homecoming, including an unheard-of aunt and an extremely bossy foreman, both of which, as it turns out, have been made partners in the ranch. Jess and Tucker are immediately at odds and stuck together until her brother gets home to look after her welfare. And then to top things off, Jess worms her way into running the chuck wagon for the cattle drive . . .
Hake has written some fun characters. I loved Jess and Tucker's verbal sparring - as an observer, sometimes I would side with one and then the other, since neither was always right or in the right. In general I liked what Tucker has to say (or at least could see where he is coming from), but he suffers extreme foot-in-mouth disease and I simply could not sympathize after some major verbal blunders. Jess is more abrasive, but that stems largely from feeling unwanted and hurt, and she can be a gentle, loving soul when Tucker is not involved. Her interactions with her aunt Desta are among the tenderest and most insightful parts of the book.
One little thing that bothered me was the tendency to repeat dialogue when the point of view shifts; it was jarring to suddenly be a sentence or two back in time. Normally when the point of view shifts in the middle of a scene, the second viewpoint picks up immediately where the first leaves off, rather than recapping the dialogue from the second point of view. It happens maybe half a dozen times in this book - not a lot, but enough to lose some conciseness and feel like words are being wasted.
I like how Hake has interspersed the story with little nuggets of wisdom, both humorous ("a closed mouth gathers no boots" (74)) and serious. I especially like the conversation Desta and Jess have about slavery, when they are still a little awkward and getting to know each other. Hake writes, "When you stop looking for what you have in common with other people, it's the first step to not seeing them as people a'tal" (125). It was a reminder that we do that all the time - on a personal level with that annoying jerk we just can't stand, to on an international level with whomever we fight against in war.
I would not have minded a little more conclusion to the novel to wrap up the whole story a little better and not just the romance - it was a rather sudden ending. However, I enjoyed the story as a whole. 4.5 out of 5 stars!
Thank you Barbour and NetGalley for providing a free e-copy for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.
I also recommend Letter Perfect (about a girl who was also kicked out of numerous finishing schools and finds her way to the West) and Fancy Pants (featuring a British Lady in Texas, hiding out as a young man on her uncle's ranch), both by Cathy Marie Hake.