Cowboy Charm School
Margaret Brownley starts off a brand-new series of humorous historical westerns with Cowboy Charm School, the first book in the Haywire Brides saga.
From the back blurb: Texas Ranger Brett Tucker hates to break up a wedding, but the groom—notorious criminal Frank Foster—is a danger to any woman. So he busts into the church, guns blazing…only to find he has the wrong man.
Bride-to-be Kate Denver is appalled by her fiancé’s over-the-top reaction to the innocent mistake and calls off the wedding—for good. Guilt-ridden, Brett’s desperate to get them back on track. But the more time he spends with Kate, the harder he falls…and the more he yearns to prove that he’s her true match in every way.
Lisa: This one did give me the giggles, right from the moment when the preacher gasped at Brett’s ruining Frank and Kate‘s wedding. “You shot Jesus!”
Maggie: I found the opening scene cute too. It set the right tone for the novel, which was overall light, frothy and a bit of a laugh.
Lisa: Frothy really is a perfect way to describe the book! How did you feel about Brett? I liked his quirks, liked his gentlemanliness combined with his dedication to the law. His attempts at turning Frank into a decent suitor were terribly charming, too, as was his close attention to Kate. I’d almost read a whole book about them Mutt and Jeffing it up!
Maggie: I liked Brett, but it frightened me a bit that he had a badge and a gun! He seemed a smidge quick on the draw in the beginning,
Decapitating an image of Jesus in the church and then shooting the window of the confectionery while trying to apprehend a suspect. I thought he was an excellent suitor, though. Someone who really paid attention to his love interest, who showed genuine delight in her as a person, and who was romantic to boot. I loved the whole thing with learning her favorite color, the flowers and the goat!
Lisa: I was actually waiting for the book to make jokes about his lack of competence, but then he took an abrupt level-up in badass towards the end. I liked parts of Kate’s character, but she really did spend too much time as a damsel in distress, constantly doing things that required Brett to rescue her. She’s supposed to be strong and independent, yet she’s constantly being held at gunpoint! Still, I liked the way the author detailed Kate’s past as a wagon train orphan, and how hard it was when she lost her mother. As a sidenote, her friendship with little Dusty was adorable. How about you?
Maggie: I liked Kate; I thought she was perfect for this novel in that she was impetuous, generous-natured and light-hearted. I think, though, that I would have liked her a bit more if it wasn’t for the anachronism of how she treated Frank. They were literally at the altar when she dumped him and that wasn’t the only time she treated him with a bit of callousness. I didn’t like her response to his allergies or her general unacceptance of him for who he was. He seemed to genuinely care about her; I just about swooned when I read that he made a long journey to be sure she was being treated well after they had both left the orphan train. Yet she seemed almost indifferent to his feelings.
Lisa: I also felt like the premise for Kate and Frank’s break-up was a little weak (it basically breaks down to ‘He was going to have his way with you! In a church!’). The jealousy stuff made a lot more sense and sometimes I rooted for him (“She can change a wagon wheel in record time” is an amusing compliment! A woman’s prowess with a hammer CAN BE who she is!). But it was clear he was never a threat to the burgeoning relationship between Kate and Brett and that their love was more friendly than anything. Yet I liked the strength of their childhood bond. As for Kate and Brett, I loved the slow-burn of the relationship; that taffy pulling scene was so much fun. But ultimately the difference between Kate marrying Brett or Frank was the difference between excitement and stability, wasn’t it? How did you feel about the two central relationships of the book?
Maggie: That’s a tough question to answer. I liked Brett and Kate as a couple; I enjoyed watching them fall in love and like I mentioned before, I appreciated the romantic way Brett approached the relationship. I was confused by Frank and Kate’s relationship. Frank seemed to really know Kate, to get her inside and out even if he didn’t catch the details like what her favorite color was. She didn’t seem nearly as into him; I know she was upset over his jealousy issues but that seemed to outweigh years of friendship for her and I found that a bit petty. Overall, I felt the difference in the relationships was Kate’s response to the men in them: she and Frank didn’t work because she didn’t love him. She and Brett worked because she fell in love with him. It wasn’t so much a question of excitement over stability as it was a question of love over indifference, IMO.
Lisa: Back to Frank – Lord, I felt pity for him, and I really liked him – and I felt total sympathy for his allergies. As you pointed out above, I feel like the author was kind of using them to point up Brett’s strength in relation to that, which is a little ridiculous; as a fellow allergy sufferer, I am not ‘less of a person’ because dust makes my head blow up like a cotton ball. I, too, found Kate’s total lack of pity for him in that department to be ridiculous.
Maggie: In some ways I liked Frank more than I liked Kate. He seemed like a nice guy out of his element in the courtship arena. He struck me as hardworking (he had his own shop), loyal (he stuck with Kate even when she was less than kind to him) and earnest (his feelings toward her were displayed by his actions and his willingness to change to make her happy.) As a fellow allergy sufferer, I found his allergies endearing.
Lisa: I really hope he shows up as a hero further down the line in the series! What about our cast of supporting characters? I didn’t really like pushy, hectoring Aunt Letty much, though her feud with the local seamstress was fun. I thought Connie was decent and I loved Hoot Owl Pete. Little Dusty, too! How about you?
Maggie: I liked the secondary characters although I think I have more empathy for Aunt Letty than you did. I understood where she was coming from in terms of wanting her niece married, since that was a very common attitude in that time period.
Lisa: That’s a great point; I guess her pushiness never translated properly for me into concern. As a sidenote, I thought it was interesting the way the author celebrated the importance of confectionery work in a town. As someone who knows something about pastry arts, I found myself nodding my head in agreement. Her research really showed there!
Maggie: This book made me hungry for candy! I did love the descriptions of the treats and the details about the shop. I felt, though, that it perhaps didn’t depict the financial situation of the times very accurately. Both books and candy were luxury items and were typically available only in large cities. That a midsize town could support a confectionery/bookstore seemed rather surprising to me. I suppose if would have been possible if the main customers for such items had been the railroad or stage coach passengers but the text didn’t seem to reflect that.
Lisa: Maybe if it were a bakery it’d make more sense, since people definitely want bread and need cakes for celebrations. Interestingly, the author points out the flaw you mentioned; normally a general store would sell candy in a town roughly Haywire’s size. So, what’s your final grade? I thought this was a fine sweet, light comedy, but some of its flaws were pretty hard to ignore. So it’s roughly a B for me.
Maggie: I noted the author’s explanation but didn’t find it very convincing. I think it was the sense that the people in town seemed more affluent than what you read about in a typical Western. That’s part of what makes this a B for me as well. I loved the courtship of Brett and Kate, liked the lighthearted tone of the tale, appreciated the author’s nod to the underground railroad and enjoyed the mystery of the Ghost Riders but I felt the historicity was a bit weak and didn’t enjoy the love triangle, which brought the overall grade down to a B.
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