One of the reasons I find genre lit so interesting is that many forms follow such a strict formula, you’d think readers would weary of knowing just where the peaks and valleys fall, and start playing “spot the potential obstacle” early in the plot. But they don’t. Fans of genre lit, be it romance or mystery, are more interested in process than outcome. The outcome is always predetermined. That doesn’t mean you can’t change the ending up somewhat, but the love must be won and the mystery solved. How you get there, however, is your business. So, plotwise, Jenn Alexander’s Home has few surprises – but the journey is full of off-road wonder.
Novice chef Rowan Barnes moves from her hometown of Portland to a dream job in Texas, but things are less than ideal. She isn’t doing well on the job, and she isn’t all that wild about Texas. She misses her family and friends, and she really isn’t sure she can cope. Enter Kate Landreth, local cattle rancher. The first time Rowan picks up the order for the restaurant at Kate’s ranch, the fire is lit. But Rowan is hesitant to enter a relationship when she’s not certain she’ll stay. When she gets fired from the job that brought her there, she has to make a tough decision.
If the peaks and valleys aren’t plain enough, there’s also Kate’s father, a crusty old rancher permanently sidelined by a horse accident, reluctantly fading into the background as his daughter assumes control of his ranch. You can almost hear the scenes clicking into place as these characters ride their emotions to the ending. And although that sounds cold and somewhat cynical, let me assure you those characters are so well-drawn that you’ll be involved no matter how many times you’ve been down that road. Rowan is just the right balance of adventure and regret, and Kate is a stabilizer for both Rowan and her father – so much, in fact, that you wonder how she will get her needs met. By the ending, however, that becomes apparent.
And that ending… It’s so tempting to end with a wedding. It’s expected and natural, and what better way to celebrate the love that’s struggled 264 pages to bloom? Had that been the route Alexander had chosen, I wouldn’t have minded. I’m not heartless. I cry at weddings, and I probably would have at this one, too. But she does something else; something unexpected that lifts this into a different realm. It’s certainly a happy ending, so the outcome is satisfied and maybe you will have seen it coming. I didn’t.
Regardless, Jenn Alexander’s “Home” is a deft romance that never drags or wastes your time. The characters are all great, the dialogue is natural, and the cover is lovely and evocative. What more could you ask of a summer read?
© 2020 Jerry L. Wheeler