Kentucky Home is a fast read that initally appealed to me in a few ways: I liked the idea of a book set in Kentucky, especially on a horse farm. I liked the description of the heroine, I liked the idea of a romance about folks starting over, and while the part of the cover copy where the heroine “wins the hearts” of the hero's family one by one gave me a pause, I wanted to read more.
Unfortunately, the book had wildly huge jumps in emotional development that I did not believe in the least, and was mostly populated by one-note characters who served a purpose to the story instead of being actual people.
Mallory Thompson gave up a lot, little by little, at the behest of her surgeon husband. If you've ever heard things about how surgeons are egomaniacal douchebags who care for no one else but themselves and their own egos, those are the elements that made up Mallory's husband. She leaves him, finally, and, posing as the fiancee of her sort-of friend Luke, arrives on his family's horse farm in Kentucky to start her life over again. Mostly, she's running away until she figures out what to do next, and Luke thought this was the best possible solution.
I don't quite get that either, but if you're in DC and you need to run away, the horse farm belonging to the family of a guy you barely know is probably a fantastic option.
Mallory, who goes by Mal, has a horracious case of Insta-Love. She has met Luke a handful of times at society events with her husband where Luke was working as a cater waiter or bartender, and they've had coffee together, but when the situation with Mal's husband goes from crap to really crappy, she runs to Luke. In the middle of the night. And off the go to the horse farm, pretending to be engaged.
Then after a couple of days, Luke leaves Mal at the farm. He takes off without saying goodbye and leaves there there with his family. I couldn't figure out if that was the action of a complete shitheel and Mal was just a crap judge of character, or if Luke hid his shitheely ways enough that Mal didn't know he'd ditch her with his family, pretending to be his fiancee. Either way, she mentions at one point that she “loves” Luke as a friend — and I couldn't comprehend that at all. She's met him a handful of times, he bails her out – sort of – when things got bad with her ex husband, and he dumps her with his family and takes off. Ok, terrific!
Mal is insta-love pants-burning attracted to Keith, Luke's brother and the one trying to keep the farm running, and feels guilty NOT because she's lying about being married (which she still is) but because she's lying about being engaged to Luke. The hell? The conflicts Mal feels collapse when you think about them too hard, which is fine because Mal repeats them a lot, but doesn't really examine them too closely.
Luke and Keith's sister is kind of awesome in a one-note, loud-and-brash ballsy kind of way. She says exactly what she's thinking. Their father, Cal, appears when drama is needed. He's sort of the dark and scary grumpy guy who won't change even though the kids know they have to do something different to save the farm, but no one will stand up to him. For such an imposing figure, he has little influence when he's not actually IN a scene. He's like a Lego stuck to the outside of the story. He can be applied because the connection is there, but he doesn't do anything.
Keith was the saving element of the story for me, and the reason I kept skimming and skimming until I got to the end and could find out what happened. I wish there had been more focus on developing his character, as I liked him the best. He was grumpy and grieving – his wife had been killed in a car accident three years prior – and he was supposed to follow a different career in the town, but he went back home to help run the farm. He's (I think) pretty stuck in his routine until Mal shakes him out of it with her innocence, her ignorant farm mistakes (Someone left the gate open! It was Mal! Grab that horse! She's horrible for being so thoughtless except no one told her not to!) and her determination.
Mal is perfectly adorable in mostly every way. She's a thwarted accountant – her husband stood in the way of her working and developing her own career because she needed to support him and his aspirations – and she's able to restore order to everyone else's offices and lives… except her own.
She's majorly attracted to files out of order and bad accounting systems, which seem to proliferate in this town, and, since the opening scene features Keith grumbling about the out-of-control bills and paperwork on the farm, you know that she'll end up there making order of that chaos, too. Her insta-love for disorganized paperwork chaos was the only insta-love she had that made sense to me. I feel like that's almost a cliche now, the heroine who is able to restore order and create organization for everyone but herself.
The story develops slowly as Mal comes to learn about the farm, the family, and the problems facing the farm. She makes friends with a few people and her home seems to shift from DC, where no one seems to be aware of her disappearance except possibly her ex, to Kentucky, where she's increasingly treated as if she matters, and that what she wants is worth pursuing. Except she didn't choose Kentucky. Luke did, and it was easiest at the time. Mal seems to have no interest in going anywhere else except staying where she's been put, and that complacency didn't fit with the times that Mal pondered how her life ended up where it did.
The ex-husband was a flaccid, one-note villain, whom we are told the heroine is afraid of, and whom we are told is abusive. And while there were recounts of his behaving abusively, and certainly he's a manipulative, selfish dickshit of a person, in the conversations Mal has with him, she's not afraid. She's exasperated every time. She's resigned that his behavior won't change, and she recognizes her own inability to say no to him in the past… except her behavior in the course of the story doesn't match what we're told she feels about her ex-husband.
As for the ex-husband, or soon to be ex-husband, he's repetitive. His manipulations don't escalate until the ending, which is telegraphed way ahead of time, and was so over the top it didn't fit either. He's an annoyance to be dealt with, and a part of Mal's backstory.
The development, limited as it was, of Keith made me keep reading. Without him I'd have stopped reading because the emotions were told not shown, the backstory was info-dumped, the conflicts were insisted upon by the characters, and the external conflict was thin.