RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Homecoming Ranch by Julia London


Title: Homecoming Ranch
Author: Julia London
Publication Info: Montlake Romance August 2013
ISBN: 978-1611099577
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Book Homecoming Ranch This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Allie. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Contemporary Romance category.

The summary: 

A lonely childhood and an irresponsible mother has lead Madeline Pruett to create a predictable, solitary world for herself. But she is shocked from her cushy cocoon when a father she never knew dies and leaves her an inheritance, and two unknown sisters. Madeline intends to fly to Colorado, meet these mysterious sisters, and quickly return to Orlando to close the biggest deal of her budding real estate career.

For years, Luke Kendrick has juggled school and career and rescuing his family from illness, death and financial crisis, all without losing sight of his goals: building and selling his own dream homes. On the verge of realizing his dream, Luke is called home to Pine River to reclaim the ranch his father has inexplicably lost. Luke’s family knows he will put his life on hold to rescue them. . .again.

Luke is not prepared for an uptight yet sexy woman in impractical shoes who thinks his ranch now belongs to her. Madeline isn’t sure how to put order to a rundown ranch, a pair of sisters who do not cooperate, or a place where roads have names like Sometimes Pass and men as ruggedly handsome as Luke Kendrick behave unpredictably.

Sparks fly as Luke and Madeline clash over the future of the ranch. Madeline knows what she wants…until Luke teaches her a thing or two—about breaking down walls, finding home, and the true meaning of family.

And here is Allie's review:

Homecoming Ranch by Julia London is the first book in a trilogy that follows one of my favorite tropes; a neglectful parent dies and leaves 3 disconnected siblings property with huge strings attached in order to be a manipulative butthole from beyond the grave. The book starts with the manipulative butthole, Grant Tyler, on his deathbed, telling his lawyer he wants to be buried in his Porsche (spoiler, doesn’t happen) and wants to leave his fortune to the daughters he fathered but never parented, two everyone knows about and one nobody has ever heard of.  The lawyer is a hot young man, so he’ll probably be featured in another book, but in this one he was sensible enough to bring up the practicalities, like that Grant is in the middle of his fifth divorce and doesn’t have a fortune anymore.  What he does have is a failing ranch, so Grant decides that’s good enough.

Madeline Pruett is a fairly successful real estate agent in Orlando, and had never heard of Grant Tyler or Pine River, Colorado until a lawyer shows up to tell her to claim her inheritance.  She has a chapter of agonizing about what to do, filled in with backstory about how her mother has also been neglectful, how she’s always dreamed about having a father who loved her, and has major abandonment issues.  She decides to do the practical thing and go to Pine River just long enough to settle the legalities of the estate, which is where she meets Luke Kendrick, who is pretty sure the ranch should be his.

Luke has a lot of sad back story that hit me straight in the feels. His mother is dead after a terrible battle with breast cancer and his younger brother, Leo, has a motor neuron disease that has him in a wheelchair for now, and will kill him within the next few years.  Luke is called back to Pine River, from Denver, by his aunt, because instead of Luke’s dad and brother living at Homecoming Ranch where Luke grew up, they’re living in a small house in town and the aunt wants Luke to fix everything.  Luke finds out that his father sold the ranch well below market value to Grant Tyler in order to cover Leo’s extensive medical bills, with the agreement that the ranch could be bought back at the same price eventually.  Luke is convinced his father has been cheated and decides he is going to get the ranch back for his family even though he has major career-making projects going on where he lives, is supposed working on his MBA back in Denver, and his father and brother want to live in town because the ranch requires so much work and living in town is way better for Leo.  Luke decides to fight for the ranch anyway, and after a lawyer tells him he has absolutely no legal ground to stand on he tries using his sexiness and emotional manipulation to get the ranch back from Madeline and her sisters.

Madeline meets her sisters, and of course one wants to sell the ranch, one wants to keep it, and Madeline is sure she wants to sell it, but ends up extending her three day visit to two weeks. She wants to help her sisters get the place ready for a huge family reunion because Grant had the idea to turn the ranch into an event-holding location and did absolutely nothing to prepare for it. However, he did sign a contract with a family to have 200 people stay for an extended weekend.  One sister leaves in a huff, and one buckles down. Madeline resigns herself to staying until after the family reunion, and Luke helps ready the ranch for reasons that weren’t entirely clear to me. I think it was supposed to be about getting the ranch back eventually, but felt like it was so Luke and Maddie could get closer.

This book almost hit the mark for me.  It was good enough that I looked up when the next book will be coming out (July 22) and checked out other books by Julia London from the library.  The female lead was well written; she starts out as a kind of bitchy, very type-A with a hidden whiny, commitment-phobe side (In a good way! Like that friend you’ve loved forever, but can only handle talking to about personal things after a glass or two of wine). She believably transforms throughout the book into a sweeter, still type-A Maddie who goes after what she wants and talks about her feelings. 

Luke’s brother, Leo, was both the funniest and most tragic character in the book.  At random intervals throughout the book a chapter would be narrated by Leo and his voice and style were absolutely perfect.  He had a wry, dark sense of humor and saw through what everyone else was saying into the heart of the matter.  He was definitely my favorite character in the book, and there were times I found myself wishing he was the hero. 

Madeline’s sister who wants to keep the ranch, Libby, is barely sketched out.  She (rightly) calls Madeline out when she does something bitchy, and she cleans a lot.  While inheriting the ranch puts Maddie’s life in flux, Libby’s life was already a mess and the ranch could be a solution for her.  I liked what I saw of Libby, but there wasn’t a lot there. 

And Luke was not…unlikable.  I felt like the author tried to do a lot to make him seem so hardworking and perfect, and it just made me not understand him.  Luke has a full-time job as an architect and is working on building three different houses. He’s also going back to school for an MBA, so he can open his own architecture firm, and he completely drops all of that to help his family.  It’s honorable that he’d help his family, but also kind of stupid, and that’s where the book lost me a little bit. 

SPOILER (Highlight to read): Luke has to drop out of the class he’s taking or he’d flunk out because he is spending so much time in Pine River.  One of his coworkers picks up the slack while Luke is in Pine River, and lets it be known that if Luke spends much more time there he will be out of a job.  There are scenes that show the pressures Luke is facing because he spends so much time “helping his family” but in this instance, his family doesn’t want his help.  Luke’s dad and Leo have too much going on to take care of the ranch too, and while they value the sentimentality the ranch holds, they know that having the ranch would be more trouble than it’s worth.  Luke is portrayed as risking his livelihood to help his family, but in reality he’s doing it for himself.  

Luke wasn’t a bad guy, but he didn’t appear to think critically about his motivations or choices throughout most of the book, which made it difficult to understand why he made some of the choices he did.

There were two things I thought this book did amazingly well.  The setting was absolutely wonderful.  Pine River felt like a character, written with depth and understanding.  Also, the main character driven conflicts, the ones that came from Maddie’s or Luke’s feelings were written so well.  They felt real; I could imagine people in my own life having the same discussions and arguments, and that is truly great writing.

Unfortunately, what really lowered the book’s grade for me was the ending.  I’d been feeling it as a solid A, maaaaybe A- until the end.  Luke and Maddie have to decide if how they feel about one another is strong enough to make some major life changes, and it felt like the decisions they ended up making were so the book would have a happy ending and set up the next in the series, not because it’s what the characters would have actually decided.

SPOILER (Highlight to read):
Maddie does go back to Orlando, is miserable, and decides to go back to where Luke is.  Luke told Maddie he couldn’t move to Orlando with her because he has a life in Denver.  Luke ends up quitting his job, quitting school, and quitting designing luxury houses to be a handyman on Homecoming Ranch, and then doesn’t tell Maddie.  I get that Luke wanted to stay near his family, and that he had a lot on his plate, but it seriously seemed like he just gave up all his hopes and dreams and hard work to stubbornly hold onto the idea that the ranch is still, in some way, his.  Maddie seems quite taken by the whole thing, and they end up happily ever after on Homecoming Ranch in Pine River, where there’s no real estate market for Maddie to work, and no luxury houses for Luke to build.  Maddie has a large savings account and just made a lush commission, but Luke probably just has loads of student debt.  Their choice to stay on the ranch made absolutely no sense to me, except in a “it has to end this way so the next book will work” kind of way.  If Luke and Maddie had ended up in Denver, or Orlando, or compromising and moving to Australia or something I would have given this book an A, but as it stands…I just can’t.

I give this book a solid B.  I read it straight through, and it was good enough that I’ll be finishing the trilogy when the other books come out.  It’s definitely worth a read, but I don’t think it’ll ever be a favorite for me.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    laj says:

    I seem to remember reading a book recently where the “butt-hole manipulator’s” will states he must be buried on his motorcycle…..anyone know this one?

    I have enjoyed Julia London’s historicals, but her contemps have been DNF’s for me. I too like the trope of the “strings attached inheritance” so I’ll definitely check this out.

  2. 2
    DonnaMarie says:

    So, they both give up promising & lucrative careers for lives of true love and penury? YIKES!!

  3. 3
    Carrie C. says:

    Wow, I am super super getting Montana Sky vibes here (beyond the grave manipulative butthole dad, 3 separated sisters, ranch, hot lawyer dude who ends up a love interest, etc). Anyone else feel the same? I know everything under the sun has already been done in Romancelandia, but I’d never be able to read this one objectively. ;P Such is the monumental shadow cast by La Nora, I suppose.

  4. 4
    Jo says:

    I REALLY enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next installment. Leo was such an awesome character, added so much depth to the book.

  5. 5
    Emily A. says:

    I thought Libby was the “bitchy” sister. I felt Madeline’s resentment of the sperm donor (he wasn’t involved and couldn’t earn the term father) was well-deserved and the idea that she owed him anything was unfair. I thought Libby, who constantly lectured Madeline on what she owed their “father” and wouldn’t listen to her sister feelings about the ranch or what they wanted to do and totally lectured them about their feelings for “Their father” was awful. I thought Libby wanted what Libby wanted and she didn’t care about anyone else’s feelings which made her a bitch in my book but I guess we see it differently.

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