Racked and Stacked
Lorelei James’ series of modern erotic westerns continues with Racked and Stacked, the story of a macho man and the outspoken tomboyish woman who strike sparks off and court one another.
Mechanical wiz and all-around problem solver Larissa – Riss – Thorpe is an outspoken, blunt tomboy ne plus ultra. She is not romantic. She does not cry at weddings. In fact, when her best friend gets married, Riss is the one to pull the couple apart, tell them stop fucking on the floor of the reception room’s gift shop and force them to head to their own reception. Riss is, by her own confession, a sexually free woman who is tied to no man. Which is why her developing feelings for stock conductor Ike Palmer leave her confused.
Riss and Ike have an antagonistic relationship. Forced into close proximity thanks to being best friends of the bride and groom respectively, Ike and Riss spar constantly because Ike got one of Riss’ three older brothers fired from the first job he had after leaving the military. Still, their jocular relationship means that there’s no room for romance; after all, Ike’s type is much more ladylike woman than Riss. So even though Riss blushes when Palmer the Charmer compliments her freckles, they try to keep things formal, and plunge ahead in creating their own business, a stock company that supplies bulls to rodeos. When Riss breaks her arm and ends up living with two of her brothers, Ike swoops in to fake a relationship between them and make sure she’s getting the care she needs… and begs her to help him with a work problem. Unfortunately her brothers are less than grateful to Ike for helping out, and Ike’s three sisters are less than approving of his new connection to Riss. When Ike’s fired from his job it’s Riss’ turn to comfort him. Can these two surmount their insecurities and their job and family problems to find a proper happily ever after?
The best thing about James’ stories continue to be the humanity of her characters; most of them are funny and filled with an electric, eccentric human spark; there are some exceptions to the rule, but we’ll get to that. Some of her hallmarks (antagonistic romantic partners, for one) surface in this story, but the book stays distinct from other novels she’s written.
Ike and Riss both get to occasionally be vulnerable, so the relationship isn’t about Ike breaking through Riss’ hard shell and him saving her all the time. They don’t let one another sink into the torpor of depression and self-defeat. The book takes a realistic look at the economic difficulties of being unemployed, and Riss and Ike take the long way around to romance, step by step. There is no instalove here, and when they do get it together the connection between them sizzles and mostly feels adult, though both of them do give in to spates of childish behavior.
But as a country-living chick in a rather redneck section of the east coast, let me just say – there is some supreme stereotyping on display here. That doesn’t stop the characters from feeling like people… well, most of the time. But sometimes they do tilt into caricature-land a bit too much and it feels like you’re watching a couple of Andy Griffith puppets pump and bump each other. There’s a lot of crude over-the-top behavior from most of the leads, and whether or not you’ll like them will depend on how funny you find their hormonal antics, or whether they make you cringe and roll your eyes. I fell right in the middle of the pile, occasionally endeared to their behavior, occasionally repulsed by it. Along the way there are lots of ‘modern city folks really like their phones’ and ‘horny couples sure like to bone in inappropriate places’ jokes (there are so, so many scenes in which couples that are not our main protagonists choose to have noisy sex in a room next to our hero and heroine; does Ms. James have a kink?). There’s also some old-fashioned patriarchal bullshit at work (Ike asks one of Riss’ brothers’ permission to date her), even though Riss is one of the most uniquely spirited heroines I’ve seen in romance recently.
The best characters are the ones that feel like they could be our neighbors. That includes the society of the Mud Lilies, a group of six feisty elderly women who pry into people’s business. They’re funny; I could read a whole book about the lot of them.
This is book nine in a series, but while it mostly works as a standalone, it would certainly benefit a newcomer to have read some of the other books in order to gain a deeper understanding of the relationships in the story . Racked and Stacked does, however, manage to maximize its charm, and in spite of its flaws it provides the reader with a playful – though not perfect – experience.
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