Take a modern southern gal who owns a beauty salon/janitorial supply store and a fledgling free-range egg business and match her up with the successful prodigal son of her older friend in a small town in west Texas. You’d think this is going to be a screwball comedy complete with every southern cliché the author can throw at you. You’d be wrong. In Sweet Return Anna Jeffrey gives us the Texas charm that has made the state such a bull’s-eye for romance, without going over the top.
Joanna Walsh, at 35, has never been in love, never really had a serious relationship and is working her butt off to make a moderate success of herself in her small town. She works herself to the bone between her salon in town and her egg business currently situated on her friend Clova’s cattle ranch. But Clova is in a bad way: Her youngest son, who is in charge of the ranch, but has never been very good at it, has been in a bad car accident. Clova herself isn’t in the best of health and the ranch is mortgaged to the hilt. Joanna decides to contact Clova’s oldest son Dalton and beg for some help.
Dalton doesn’t have fond memories of Texas and didn’t plan on going back. But something has him dropping everything in order to make the trip when he gets Joanna’s message. Living in Los Angeles has given him a cynical view of life and people, so when he sees this seemingly well-meaning young woman doing what she can for his mother and not asking much in return, he can’t help but think she has an ulterior motive.
Dalton is a good hero with his own bad history and I like the way he gains back his family; he’s rather sweet in that gruff-man kind of way. He gets over his suspicion fairly quickly – aside from one bullheaded moment – and is a good foil for Joanna, who is undoubtedly the star of this show. She is strong, smart and wholly independent. I’ve seen many characters aspire to be what she is, but Joanna one-ups them, though since she doesn’t come off as a man hater.
What really piqued my interest about Anna Jeffrey’s writing is her subtle humor, a humor that normally tends to go over the top when dealing with a southern contemporary romance. Instead of a cartoon version of the south, this, for once, really feels like Texas. Ms. Jeffrey does this without losing her humor and or light-hearted plot.
For all of its charms, the book isn’t without flaws. The ending was rushed and some of the egg farming descriptions read too much like an info-dump. Sweet Return has great characters who worm their way into your heart and a spicy love story – well worth a trip to the bookstore.