A Thorn in the Saddle is Rebekah Weatherspoon’s fun, fresh modernized take on Beauty and the Beast. It’s smart about people, warm, and filled with thoughtful commentary about how to accept growth and change in ones’ life.
Hot-tempered Jesse Pleasant is not like his brothers, in that he’s more of a gruff loaner type. The whole family is preparing for the wedding of Jesse’s brother, Zach, and his fiancée, Evie (A Cowboy to Remember), a concept that’s old hat for the staff at their resort ranch, - Big Rock - which is located in Charming, California. Jesse can’t remember a weekend in his childhood when the family spread didn’t have a wedding going on at it. The Pleasants have deep roots in their California hometown; in fact, Jesse’s former actress grandma, Miss Leona, has a home on the land, and Jesse is very attached to her. When he comes across her entertaining an elderly gentleman he presumes the worst in the heat of the moment, injuring the man in his attempt at rescuing a woman who does not want to be saved.
If the rest of Jesse’s family is less than pleased with his behavior toward Miss Leona’s beaux, then the wonderfully named and recently-returned-to-Charming Lily-Grace LeRoux is spitting nails. The daughter of Mr. LeRoux, Miss Leona’s beaux, she wants justice for her father, who suffered a hairline fracture to his wrist from Jesse’s failed attempt at ‘rescuing’ his grandma. It doesn’t matter that they knew each other in their childhoods; Jesse and Lily-Grace are at instant loggerheads, and it doesn’t get better when she bursts into an important meeting to yell at Jesse about her father’s injury.
This is the last thing Jesse needs. He wants to give back to his community by serving on the senate, and he’d been meeting with a charity organization because it’s important for him to connect to the people in his county, but talk about his bad temper has preceded him and he’s trying to build bridges. Lily-Grace convinces him to go to therapy for his anger issues, and in the meantime offers to help him adapt his manners to public life.
Jesse has a soft core – he has an adorable and well-trained dog, for heaven’s sake! – the trouble will be getting the rest of the people in Charming to realise it. But ultimately, the only person Jesse really wants to recognize his sweeter side is Lily-Grace.
The ride toward romance is uneven, but Lily-Grace and Jesse manage to come out the other end in a delightful fashion, endearing themselves to the reader along the way. They both have massive scars and baggage, but together they become even better people, and the reader is happier for it.
Lily-Grace has just gotten out of a relationship and is still processing her way through the difficult break-up when she agrees to work with Jesse, and her bumpy emotions are a major part of her healing process. She has vitiligo, and people have not made kind remarks about her looks due to their own racism and prejudices. She is confident and a deeply caring person.
Jesse’s anger issues, his stiff formality and his overly protective streak have combined to prevent him from relating to people. The book gradually unveils the hows and whys of this, while pointing to his shyness and his love of his family and animals to show he’s not all bad.
I liked both of them and the richness of their relationship, which starts with a tit-for-tat pas de deux and ends with love, affection and understanding. As always with Weatherspoon, there are a number of wonderful familial relationships portrayed here, and the characters’ families and friends and goals are as important to the story as the romance, Jesse’s friendship with Evie and the connection between Lily-Grace and her father primary among them. Jesse’s brooks-no-BS relationship with Miss Leona is fantastic. Jesse and Lily-Grace connect over dogs (Lily-Grace ‘steals’ Jesse’s favorite dog with her easy affection, which serves as a big bonding moment for them), which is sweetly rendered. Issues like childhood trauma and toxic relationships are deconstructed deftly.
The rich Northern California setting is carefully detailed, with glimpses of country life and small-town living.
A Thorn in the Saddle is one of Weatherspoon’s best novels, and a great read for anyone who likes their cowboys complex but growing.
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