I was excited about April’s TBR Challenge theme. I love Westerns! I always read at least a few historical Westerns every year, so for the Challenge I decided to pull out one of the contemporary Westerns that seem to age a little longer in my TBR. I’m not sure how I wound up with Home Sweet Texas, but I seem to recall it coming as a freebie in a Harlequin order of mine. It’s a May 2007 Love Inspired title, and as a reader, I found it something of a mixed bag. Were I reading for review, this would probably be a classic C book for me. It has its good points, but there are some weaknesses there to muddy things up as well.
The book starts off wonderfully. A woman lost in the middle of nowhere is weakening and prays that someone will find her. This prayer is answered in the form of Jake Trayner, who comes across the injured woman on a remote corner of his ranch. When he starts talking to her, it’s obvious that she has been wandering for some time and the woman doesn’t even remember her own name. Jake takes this injured woman to the hospital and later, touched by her plight, he and his aunt allow this woman to stay with them at the ranch once she is released from the hospital. After some discussion over what she should call herself until she remembers her own name, they hit upon Sunni. Though obviously vulnerable and hurt both physically and emotionally, Sunni does have a warm spirit and the author does a good job of showing the mix of injury and strength in her.
Jake himself is a wounded soul as well. Though he runs a ranch now, he used to be a Texas Ranger and still carries the scars of the case that ended his career. I’m a sucker for the “two lost souls healing each other” stories, so I definitely started off liking this one. This book is an inspirational Western and issues of faith feature more prominently in this book than in some other inspies I’ve read. Those who do not like religious content in their books may be put off by it, but I thought it was well done for the most part. The main aspect of inspirationals that can annoy me comes from preachiness and while the characters in this book spoke of and practiced their faith, they did not preach at the reader and I appreciated that. Jake turned his back on his faith after his experience in the Texas Rangers and part of his relationship with Sunni also involves Sunni and Jake’s aunt drawing him back to God.
This started off well enough. Jake and Sunni had an obvious emotional connection, and we get to see Sunni bringing joy to Jake’s life and helping him open up to people once more just as we see Jake comforting and helping Sunni as she heals from her past injuries and starts to recover piece of memory. These parts of the story are all very compelling. In addition, the characters all talk and act like normal, everyday people and this makes them very appealing. So, where did it go wrong? Well, the second half of the book was what did me in.
I had enjoyed what seemed like a sweet and emotional love story up until that point. However, in the latter parts of the book, the plot got cluttered up with wild business schemes of Jake’s aunt and other things that just seemed a little too over-the-top to be there. In addition, the main relationship hit a point where it felt like Jake and Sunni where treading water. Nothing bad happened between them; It just felt like the author was getting very wrapped up in various side plots involving her little Texas community and so the development of Jake and Sunni got put on hold periodically. At this point, between the cutesy plot point and secondary character overload, I found myself starting to put down the book and take breaks from reading it more and more. It wasn’t a bad read by any stretch of the imagination; it had simply stopped being a compelling one for me. I still like Westerns and I didn’t mind reading this one, but I think I’ll hit my historical Western stash next time I’m in the mood for a ranch setting.
The Book: Home Sweet Texas by Sharon Gillenwater
Steeple Hill Love Inspired, May 2007 (still in print as an eBook)
– Lynn Spencer