I have heard from a few readers here that they love Jane Porter’s books. One reader mentioned in particular her sense of humor and her friendly heroines. So when this book arrived I read it in a matter of days. It had a line up of things that I generally jump into as fast as I can:
– a heroine who has picked up her old life and moved to a place that’s familiar and yet completely foreign
– exchanging city life for rural life
– facing real actual contemporary problems that aren’t easy
– finding oneself in charge and having to lead when one really, really doesn’t want to
Shey Darcy is a former model whose husband, a famous fashion photographer, has just left her. She picks up her family, including her 3 teenage sons, and moves home to rural Texas, where she moves into her old home, sends her kids to public school, and tries to figure out where to go from there. Her youngest son loves it, and is fascinated by bullriding. Her middle son is emotionally troublesome and she’s very worried about him, and her oldest is all, “WTF? I went to a private prep school in New York, and you’re making me to go school in what amounts to a giant empty flat field with cows next door? No effing way.”
Over the course of the story, Shey faces really, really big honking problems that she has to tackle solo.
Porter writes about growing older, and having the heroine face her changing role as a model, such as when she’s asked to drive to a job and finds out when she gets there that she’s playing the grandma. The heroine’s sons have real, painful issues, and the hero, former bullriding champion and town celebrity Dane Kelly, has personal issues he has to deal with, in addition to the upheaval of seeing his high school first love back in town. I empathized with the heroine and rooted for her, and wanted everyone in her house to find a happy ending.
But the solutions to the biggest problems for her son, the problem that made me rub my chest over my heart, occurred for the most part off screen. Her son receives really awful text messages and is being bullied via text and online – to the point where it drives him into a scary depression, one that his mother has been watching for since he became depressed in New York some time before. When his mother gets involved, I wanted those responsible to have their asses handed to them, preferably by a large, angry longhorn. But there is no satisfaction for me as the reader, only the reassurance that the son should be ok. I didn’t want should be and I didn’t want offscreen. I wanted a more visual explanation of the consequences. If not a hella shitful asskicking than at least some payment meted out due to the heinous level of behavior.
Plus, the entire book takes place on a working cattle ranch. The heroine does the bookkeeping for her brother, who runs the place. And I don’t think there’s one cow in the whole story. Mystery steers! Completely invisible! Does that mean the cow patties are stinkless and mysterious, too?
As much as I was impressed with Porter for bringing in some serious challenges for the heroine to face – her son growing up, her husband’s manipulation of Shey in spite of her wish for a cordial relationship with him, bullying by text, a younger son who is fascinated by a dangerous sport, an ex-boyfriend she has serious hots for again, a feeling of returning home and not quite fitting in, the challenge of retaining some of her modeling career as she ages – at the end of the book, I nearly chucked it across the patio.
I don’t want to say why, but when there were barely 1/4” of pages left for me to read, Porter introduces a huge plot turn that has no satisfaction and no place that close to the ending. I was meant, I believe, to take this development as a happy one, but given everything that led up to that revelation, I wasn’t happy, nor did I accept that everything was going to be ok when I got to the end. Everything was most definitely NOT ok, and the ending was FAR too close for comfort. With that many problems, realistic one-after-the-other, what-next, this-is-what-real-life-is-like problems in the family, I couldn’t tell if the ending was meant to give way to a sequel or if I was supposed to just accept that, again, everything should be ok.
It was like going on a trip and being told, “This flight is headed to Houston. This flight is going to Houston. You’re aboard a flight that is going to Houston!” and then at the last minute, 5 minutes before landing, you hear, “Wait, never mind. We’re going to Minnesota!”
No one one the plane would say, “Oh, ok!” Neither did I. I liked the heroine, I really cheered for her and was fascinated by her character as a mom, model, ex-wife, betrayed person, manipulated person, strong mother, local celebrity and struggling daughter. But that right turn 1/4” from the end of the book just made me yell. Plus, the theme of the book through the majority was about Shey and her sons’ struggles, and at the end, the last words are some other theme entirely, one that was not explored sufficiently or consistently through the book.
After a story that was about difficulty and overcoming changes you didn’t expect, to have a huge change accepted so easily and with no worries was too much to ask of me as a reader. It was not all ok in the end with me. I anticipated a bittersweet ending that resolved most of the issues facing Shey, and while most of them were addressed, the large and ill-fitting new ones didn’t give me reassurance that they would all live happily ever after. I wanted the affection I had for the heroine to be the memory I had of this book, and after I finished it, my first reactions upon seeing the book are confusion and frustration and anger.