Mistletoe in Texas
Mistletoe in Texas is the latest – and incredibly faulty – addition to Kari Lynn Dell’s Texas Rodeo series, and in it, ex-rodeo star Hank Brookman takes center stage.
Hank had been promising in his rookie year, but cockiness, an ill-advised affair, and a severe injury pretty much killed his career, forced his retirement and gave him an addiction to prescription medication. Hank now spends his days in a squatter’s camp near Blackfoot Nation in Northern Montana, too ashamed of himself to go home and make amends after his behavior estranged all of the important people in his life. But the death of Norma, a grandmother figure to him in the camp, makes him want to put things right with his rancher father, his sister, and his ex-lover, Grace.
Athletic trainer Grace McKenna has known Hank all her life and has loved him just as long. She comes from an extremely religious family, and had to keep their relationship – such as it was – a secret, so when Hank cruelly told her, in front of the entire town, that their one-night-stand meant nothing to him, her parents threw her out and she ended up living with Hank’s sister. What Hank didn’t know was that Grace was pregnant and absolutely did not want to raise a child. Nearly every important person in Hank’s life knows that Grace gave birth to Maddie in secret seven years earlier and all but sold her daughter to her adoptive parents (which occurred in the previous book, Fearless in Texas.)
When Hank’s dad Johnny breaks his shoulder after being bucked off a horse, Hank’s friend Bing shows up to surprise him for Thanksgiving and ends up taking care of the house. As Johnny and Bing embark on an awkward romance, Grace decides to tell Hank the truth about the product of their union. Will their relationship be salvageable?
Wow. Sometimes all you can say when you finish reading a book is – Wow.
I would have liked Hank, were it not for the plot point of the ‘disgrace’ which sent him on the rodeo circuit. The affair I said was ‘ill-advised’ was with Mariah, the daughter of the rodeo announcer, and is discussed in oblique but extremely discomfiting terms, mostly because we are not told how old Mariah was. The narrative hints strongly that she was underage, when we’re told that if the scandal hadn’t been hushed up, “the police could have been called.” I’d find Hank to be otherwise decent and hard working – were I not left wondering if he’d slept with a teenager when he was twenty.
I have an even bigger problem with Grace’s Big Secret – the pregnancy and sale of her child. I’m not giving away spoilers here, because this plot point is revealed in the previous book and again thirty pages into this one, so I have no problem mentioning it, and saying that it has no real place in the story other than to make Grace feel resentful of Hank’s presence. It doesn’t inform their actions after it is revealed (they don’t try to get the kid back; the adoptive parents are rich enough to buy everyone off and pay for Grace’s student loans; Grace hates kids when it’s convenient), and it doesn’t inspire Hank to be as angry at Grace as she’s been at him, because he gets over the revelation in a day. That said, I appreciated that Grace was unsentimental about the kid, and her giving away Maddie without remorse or sentimentality was a good twist on the ‘hero and heroine have secret child’ trope, but there’s no coming back from what Grace does to Hank by not telling him about Maddie at all. Also if our heroine doesn’t like children and has no maternal instincts, why is she working in a high school with child athletes? Why does she have two teenage nephews who are her ‘partners in crime’ that she’s been a cool aunt to and living with since they were three? The problem with the story isn’t just that Grace sold Maddie to friends of a friend for the twenty thousand dollars they’ve put in a trust (which she feels bad about yet happily uses) and forgiven-by-influence student loans, it’s that her total inconsistency when it comes to how she feels about the situation makes no sense.
For just under half the novel, Grace wants nothing to do with Hank, then they try to be friends, but they wanna bang… and how does the author accomplish that banging?
Dear reader. Imagine that you had a college affair with a friend that ended poorly. You’ve recently reignited a relationship with her. And this is how she decides to tell you that you created a child together that she gave away for adoption.
“I never really was your girl, I mean.” She pulled out a picture and offered it up on the flat of her hand. “But she is.”
Have you ever read a line so terribly insensitive that you literally held your book/e-reader/monitor a few feet back from your face because you couldn’t believe what you’d just read? Yeah, that was me when Grace lays that one on Hank. I have never seen information imparted with less class and grace. The worst part is that the author takes this moment – devastating to Hank – and tries to mill physical comedy from it, and then posits that since Hank would’ve been a terrible single father anyway, he had no right to know anything. He doesn’t once distrust Grace during the remainder of their courtship but she distrusts him.
The book has a tendency to drop big moments flat on their heads a lot – like Hank losing a dear friend to a stroke and going to scatter her ashes, without explaining who she was to him and why the moment should be important to the reader. It’s better than the book’s awkward and ham-fisted attempts at trying to actually make a statement about the rights of First Nations people. Mistletoe in Texas tries to make intellectual discourse about drug abuse on the Rez and the racism First Nations people suffer to this day, and sometimes it succeeds, but good God, if you’re going to do that, you shouldn’t have your hero say his time living on the border of their land was him “going Native for awhile.” That was enough to make me cringe. Don’t get me started on Grace’s stereotypical far right Christian father, who won’t let his wife use a computer and is scandalized by his son’s relationship with an Asian woman.
Did I like anything about this book? Buried at the center of it all was Johnny’s struggle with aging, his struggle to reconcile with Hank, and Hank’s struggle to grow up. Also good was Grace’s custodianship and care of her young student athletes. And Bing and Johnny’s secondary romance, fraught with her past tragedy and his self-remorse, was far more compelling than Grace and Hank’s. I liked that Grace didn’t want kids (most of the time) and wasn’t talked into having more, and I liked that SHE was the one who had to grovel to Hank. But when a major tenet of a relationship is based upon a big old fat lie, it’s hard to root for either of the leads to do anything but get miles away from one another. Mistletoe in Texas is a terrible misfire.