Monday, February 24, 2020

Romancing the Cowboy: Three Sage Valley Ranch Novels

Romance novels have a host of sub-genres – historical romances, Amish romances, and Americans-find-love-in-Europe romances, to mention a few. One of the largest sub-genres, both in general and Christian romances, is that of the cowboy. 

The cowboy and the idea of the West loom large in the American imagination. From the colonial period onward, one of the major themes in American history is pushing westward. The idea of “Manifest Destiny” was first raised by President James Monroe in a warning to European powers not to interfere with America. The phrase itself was first mentioned by, no surprise, a newspaper editorial in 1845. But whether it was about destiny or opportunity or the desire to escape, both Americans and immigrants pushed and settled steadily westward. 

In the late 19th century, the “cowboy” as an archetypical American character emerged. The reality of the cowboy lasted some 40 years or so, but books and then movies turned the cowboy into a full-blown American myth. It’s a myth that still manages to hold on to a considerable number of our imaginations.

And if contemporary romances are any measure, the cowboy is alive and doing quite well, thank you, ma’am. Hundreds if not thousands of titles can be found that have the cowboy as the story’s hero. These stories can be standalone novels or novels in a series, usually centered on a ranch in places like Texas or Montana. For a series, a ranch offers a host of different characters with the potential for telling a host of different stories, with the ranch itself as the centering device.

The Sage Valley Ranch series is a good example. Set in the Texas Hill Country, some 300 miles from Houston, the series includes five books by five different authors. Obviously a coordinated group writing project, the series’ books have a few general characters in common and, of course, the ranch property itself. 

Romancing the Conflicted Cowboy by Crystal Walton, the first in the Sage Valley Ranch series, Callie Claston is a writer from New York with a mission. She’s written a cowboy romance, and a major critic has panned it, causing her publisher to withdraw the offer for a second book. She comes to Sage Valley Ranch with her friend Tricia to “soak up some atmosphere.” Tricia also manages to snag an article assignment for Callie – how to romance a cowboy in seven days.

The cowboy turns out to be Reed Allen, the veterinarian whose practice includes caring for the ranch’s horses and animals. Reed is a widower with three daughters, and he has a lot of baggage associated with the accidental death of his wife. The story moves from the funny to the serious, including some severe misunderstandings on the parts of both Callie and Reed.

Wrangled by the Watchful Cowboy by Tamie Dearen is the third novel in the series. Jessica Powell is a granddaughter of the ranch’s owner, and she’s home for summer break from college. Summer break also means a lot of work at the ranch, for which she’s grateful. Not only does it help her pay off her student loans, it also gets her mind off the former fiancée, a relationship that did not end well. Cord Dennison, one her brother’s best friends, is in town from New York City. His father has recently died, and he’s helping his mother sell the family property. He’s also helping Jessica’s grandparents with marketing and accounting; Cord works for a successful tech startup in New York.

He barely recognizes the girl he always thought of as his friend’s kid sister, and he’s instantly smitten. Jess has always had a crush on Cord, even if he never noticed her. But she’s resisting any romance before she graduates, and she’s still hurting from the former boyfriend. Cord thinks his future lies back in New York City, but that just might change. In addition to the romance, the reader also gets to learn a bit about bull riding and rodeos. 

The fifth novel in the series is Inspired by the Creative Cowboy by Bree Livingston, and the cowboy in the story isn’t really a cowboy but an artist. Summer Brown, another granddaughter of the ranch owner, has to restore a barn in three months in time for a wedding. The contractor she’s hired has skipped town with half of her money, and she’s desperate. Julian Wolf happens to overhear their conversation, and he volunteers to do the work. 

Julian is an artist in his late 30s and hails from a wealthy Houston family. He’s reeling from a major critic’s review of his last gallery exhibition, and he’s taking time away to clear his head. He knows some about carpentry, and he takes the project on. But he doesn’t say anything to Summer about his background or his family, setting up an inevitable conflict.

The two other books in the series are Falling for the Younger Cowboy by Liwen Ho and Charmed by the Daring Cowboy by Melanie Snitker. Fortunately, the books can be read in any order and independently of one another. The three that I’ve read are entertaining, fast-paced, and well-written, even if there’s an occasional bending of the definition of cowboy.

Top photograph by Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash. Used with permission.

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