February 2011, Contemporary Romance
Signet, $7.99, 432 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451232410 Part of a series
I don’t read Catherine Anderson novels religiously, but I’ve found them to be pretty good comfort reads that take place in a different world (at least, a different world from mine), where men are chivalrous, things are black and white, and everyone has a bizarre countrified expression for every occasion. The latest book in the Harrigan family series is all of these things. Despite a questionable start involving a painfully unnatural TV news segment and more talk of horse bowels than I ever want to know, the book turned into a sweet, slow romance.
Zach Harrigan has been a playboy for a long time, looking for no more than one-night stands and cold beer. However, after reading an article about mini horses getting trained as service animals -- and then seeing a blind man get harassed in a bar -- he decides to put his well known and peerless horse training skills to a new type of training: mini horses, to be used as service animals for the blind.
Two years later, he’s training a mini, Rosebud, when he gets unwillingly profiled on the local news. Mandy Pajeck sees the segment, and realizes a mini might be the answer to her prayers. Mandy, at twenty-eight, has been caring for her blind teenage brother for years. She blames herself for Luke’s blindness, and he blames her too. Even after fifteen years, he doesn’t let her forget it. He’s utterly helpless on his own, and Mandy is kept almost as a slave to the needs of her moody, angry, and manipulative brother. A guide dog is out of the question, though, due to a traumatic incident as a child. So Mandy seeks out Zach, and asks about the possibility of buying Rosebud once she’s trained. Zach is hesitant, though, because of Luke’s terrible attitude. With time, though, Luke isn’t the only one that changes; Zach forces Mandy to let go of a painful and damaging past to look toward a future that they might even spend together.
I loved the slowness of their relationship. It doesn’t drag, and it’s not a plodding, boring type of slowness, but an organic development of love between two people over the course of several months. Zach and Mandy’s feelings toward each other are natural and believable. Both of them individually are interesting and likable characters. Zach is one of those macho cowboy types that see things in very simple terms of right and wrong, and he falls for Mandy hard.
Mandy and Luke are the most interesting characters, though. They suffered a horrific childhood of abuse and abandonment, things that still very much inform their actions. I thought their healing and development was well paced and realistic. Luke’s issues all were totally believable, but some of Mandy’s seemed a bit extreme. I feel sort of horrible saying this, as who am I to judge someone’s reactions to horrible abuse that I can’t even fathom? But some of her reactions, including minor panic attacks when anyone has a sip of alcohol in her presence, or brings up the idea of marriage, seemed a bit much, considering she’d been out of the control of her father for ten years.
Catherine Anderson deserves some props for taking on characters and issues other authors wouldn’t touch -- she’s had protagonists that have been paralyzed, brain damaged, blinded, and victims of terrible abuse. In this case, it was the latter two. In some ways, this book seems like an elaborate PSA about the wonders of mini horse guide animals -- there’s a lot of explanation that sometimes seems like it came out of a training manual than someone’s mouth. But honestly, I don’t mind much. It was still a really good story.
-- Jane Granville
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