I’ve often said I’d read anything that Carla Kelly writes – including a laundry list if it was the only thing available. Her new books are auto buys for me, and I’ve worked at picking up copies of her older Regency romances.
Now Kelly begins a new path as a romance author, switching continents, time periods, and belief systems. With this change-up Borrowed Light, which her publicity says is written for a Mormon audience, shows both the best of Kelly’s writing and areas where she is still finding her feet. Fans of Western romances, whether Mormon or not, will enjoy her new book.
Twenty-seven year old Julia Darling, a graduate of Fannie Farmer’s Boston cooking school, is dissatisfied with her life and her fiancé when she moves back to Salt Lake City. In the midst of celebrating her younger sister’s wedding, she finds an advertisement for a cook from a “desperate rancher” who specifies he wants someone who studied under Fannie Farmer. It’s as if the ad has been written just for her.
Julia applies, gets the job, and with her parents’ approval travels to the remote Double Tipi ranch outside Gun Barrel, Wyoming, where she meets successful thirty-five-year-old rancher Paul Otto, his crew of misfits, and James, an orphan who might be eight year old and whom Paul has informally adopted. Before arriving at the ranch, however, she must fend off the other bachelors in Gun Barrel, who see her as excellent wife material.
Julia is nothing if not practical. Not only does she buy a return ticket home, just in case she might need it, but she convinces Otto to draw up and sign a one year contract to get the eligible men off her back. However, when she gets to the Double Tipi and takes a look at the homestead and especially the kitchen, she has her first misgivings. The place is a horrible, rat-infested, filty mess.
Dismayed, but undaunted, Julia digs in to clean out the house and especially the kitchen in order to cook her fabulous meals. Here is where Kelly’s sense of humor shines. Particularly memorable is Julia’s first gourmet meal for a crew whose idea of an excellent dinner is steaks, hash browns, and biscuits. They are unimpressed with Fannie Farmer’s watercress soup, roast beef in an oyster blanket, and creamed peas in potato baskets, no matter how well they’re cooked.
As she settles in she gets to know the nearest ranch couple, Mr. Otto’s Indian relatives, and the farmer neighbors, whom the ranchers want to starve out of the area. She also begins to hear the rumors about her boss, who may or may not have been married in the past, might still be married, and might have killed a few men. Despite the rumors, she comes to know and love the real man who is hidden under the forbidding façade.
All the while Julia prays and talks to God about her predicaments, sometimes humorously, but always sincerely. She realizes when Otto asks her about her religion how much she’s taken it for granted, not really delving into why she believes what she says she does. Shamed by this realization, she begins to read both the Bible and The Book of Mormon with an eye to understanding her religion better.
Here Kelly is on shakier ground for non-Mormons. Instead of explaining Mormon beliefs as Julia comes to know why her religion is important to her, Kelly quotes from writings without giving readers a clear context within the dogma of the church. While a lot of proselytizing would slow the story, some explanation is necessary, and Kelly has shown in her other works that she is adept at doing this.
Another minor problem for me was after having read The Admiral’s Penniless Bride with its wonderful blend of insight from both the hero and heroine, I was disappointed that the entire story in this newest book came totally from Julia’s perspective. Because of Paul Otto’s mixed background and his questions to her about the Mormon religion, I would have liked to know his impression of her and her beliefs throughout the story.
Still despite these two minor flaws, I enjoyed the book enormously, and Kelly is still an auto-buy for me. Hopefully her next Mormon romance will give a little more insight into the religion while it is steeped in interesting, fact-filled Western lore.