An at times frustrating but ultimately enjoyable slow burn
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
While I ended up enjoying this more than I thought I was going to, I found myself incredibly frustrated at times by events in the narrative.
There’s also a couple of inconsistencies which, while they don’t affect the outcomes of the story, do take away slightly from it (involving what occurred to Michael’s mother which I won’t spoiler).
I loved Michael’s dad Elmer, and was happy to see him be more a focus in the narrative having been a secondary character in book one of this series. He’s a grumpy but kind-hearted man and I was very happy he and Michael managed to resolve their decades old falling out.
Josiah frustrated me immensely and I think a lot of that is simply to do with ALL the traumas the man has had to live though. I know the aim was to draw the reader’s sympathy, but instead it just make him seem pathetic a lot of the time.
That’s a harsh criticism to lay down, I know, and I don’t want to make it sound like I’m victim blaming because I’m not, but there were times when a different direction could have been taken in the narrative and it seemed like the most dramatic and trauma-inducing one was chosen each time to try and make him appear more vulnerable but instead it made him weaker as a character.
Still, he does begin to grow in his own confidence and self-worth once he’s at Elmer’s farm, helping him after his stroke, and I eventually did start rooting for he and Michael to move from friendship into a romance.
However, overall this is an incredibly slow burn romance, which makes sense given Josiah’s background (although again, here there was just so much trauma related events that I became a bit numb to them all in the end) with two characters who do work well as a pairing.
But I found the sexual element of the story was another area where I would have liked to have seen more interactions between them once they did turn their relationship physical, especially given that Michael makes himself vulnerable for Josiah and that whole scene is beautifully done. I wanted more of that.
There’s guest appearances from the guys at Woods Ranch and it was great to catch up with Hugo and Brand again and I’m pretty sure that the author is lining up a redemption arc for the Sheriff which I’m in two minds about whether or not I want to read it, as well as possibly a story for fellow ranch hand Jackson.
I really liked the Clean Slate Ranch series, which this is a spin-off from, but so far neither of the two books in the Woods Ranch series have been as strong for me as they were. However, A.M. Arthur is an author I usually enjoy reading and the Clean Slate books got better as the series progresses, so I’m hoping it will be the same here.
There’s a very strong sense of place, which this author is so good at, and the small town vibe is well presented, there’s good secondary characters and overall the last quarter of the book pulled up my enjoyment significantly and I was very happy with where the relationship is left at the end.
Note the trigger warnings for the book, it includes references to off page sexual assault, homelessness, references to a past street life including sexual exchanges in return for accommodation and a toxic relationship on page, plus an on page violent assault.
#ARC kindly received from the publishers Carina Press via NetGalley in return for an honest and unbiased review