I'm coming back, though. And, to get back into it I'm writing a review of a book I received in a giveaway. I had the option of more than several books to be given away by Sharla Lovelace, and when I won I narrowed it down to four. I couldn't decide between them because they were all so different and new authors to me, so I asked her to surprise me.
The book, along with a $15 gift card to Barnes & Nobel, arrived in my mailbox Christmas Eve. I opened the bubble envelope Christmas Day and pulled out The Sweet Spot, by Laura Drake. I was thrilled to get another Texas cowboy romance, and this one was different from the "typical" romance. . . It involved a hero and heroine who had already been married to each other, but had that marriage shattered by tragedy.
The back cover reads:
Charla Rae Denny was the perfect wife with a perfect life, content to keep the home fires burning while her husband, JB, competed as a champion bull rider. Then their son died in a tragic accident--and everything fell apart. Divorced and saddled with a hill of bills and a failing ranch, Charla must now cowboy up to put her life back together.
James "JB" Denny doesn't stay where he isn't welcome. So when Charla shut him out of her grieving heart--and their home--a year ago, he took comfort where he could find it. Now after seeing beautiful Charla again, he wants it all back. She can't work the ranch alone, and deep in his heart he knows he can be the man she needs. But after so much history and heartbreak, can JB convince Charla to take a risk and give their love a second chance?I was drawn to this story because it's not your typical man-meets-woman-woman-fights-falling-for-man-but-does-anyway sort of romance. I liked that they were once married. I liked that the worst thing I could imagine was what blew a canyon between them. (Not that I relished in that tragedy, mind you.)
The story opens with Charla occupying herself in a homemaker sort of way. Fighting the draw of her addiction that began with the death of her son. Boom! She already has a vulnerability that affects her daily life, making other life struggles that much more difficult. And she is faced with another almost immediately: money. And that's where JB comes in.
JB spends almost the entire book trying to convince his ex-wife, who so obviously still loves him in some tucked-away treasure chest in her heart, that he has grown as a man. He's trying to show her how much he still loves her. To regain her trust.
And Charla turns him away at every turn.
But she is changing and growing, too. She has a ranch to run, after all, so she pushes through old fears to take care of what takes care of her. She makes a new friend who knows nothing of her past, helping her to move into the future.
Laura Drake's The Sweet Spot is a Romantic Times Top Pick and won "Best Debut of 2013" in the 2013 Curvy Book Awards. And there's good reason for that.
Drake's prose is poetic, using fantastic imagery to take you from your sofa on to the Denny ranch in east Texas. Her metaphors are an Indian summer to the hackneyed phrases of the past decades. The dialog feels real, true to the characters speaking. The characters are so full, even the minor ones, it feels like you know them personally.
But I think my favorite thing about this book was the emotion. Drake pulls you into the the lives of Charla and JB and makes you feel what they feel: the heart-wrenching pull of the damaged love between husband and wife; the terror of losing a child so young; the fear of rejoining society in a small town. All of it. I lived this story when I read it, like it was happening to me or my closest friend. I even had tears running down my cheeks at one point.
Their stories are true-to-life ranching stories. The details are what make it so real: the way a cutting horse "turns on" when a cow is in front of them; birthing a calf stuck in the wrong position; a harsh bit in a horse's mouth. Drake obviously knows what she's doing.
It was a leisurely read. One I didn't feel rushed to finish like the fantasy novels I've read. I think that made it more enjoyable in ways that fast-paced books can't grasp. The next book in the Sweet on a Cowboy series (love that title!) will be released January 28th, and you can bet I'll be at the store to pick it up. I've been searching for real "cowboy" stories for a long time. Laura Drake has provided what I've been looking for.