Patiance and Optimism

Ever since I hate read Harriet the Spy in fourth grade, I’ve been perfectly ok with walking away from books that don’t bring me joy.  I’ll give a book a paragraph, a page or even a chapter, but I strongly believe that when you read for pleasure, that time should be pleasurable.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that while I will walk away from one-offs, I am much more willing to work through a first book if there is an already established series.   In many ways, the first book in a series is like a pilot television show, an early promise to introduce the cast and set, leave you with a taste of the world you will enter with them, there are no expectations that characters are fully fleshed out, that dialog is always on point, or that that the seemingly random interactions make sense to a larger narrative arc.  

This was a lesson I learned with Lorelai James, a best selling romance writer.  I started Rough Riders with the first book, Long Hard Ride.  The concept was forced, the heroine the literary equivalent of a paper-cutout, the intimate relationships were hot but odd.  It is likely that James, who had been writing mysteries under another pen name, began Rough Riders as a test to see if she could switch genres.  Whatever challenges plagued the narrative arc were more than made up for by James’s tone and writing style.  Cowboy romance novels were not a sub-genre I’d dipped into before, but James was able to pull me in and surround me with rodeo culture without ever making me feel like the newcomer helped pave the way for my continued investment.

Lorelai James (author) Long Hard Ride (book) handsome white cowboy on cover, shirt open.
First in the Rough Rider Series

Book two took an unlikely turn with two main love stories,  one featuring a mature heroine and hero, and the other the young brother of our hero from Long Hard Ride.  In Rode Hard James begins to find her balance between storytelling and sex scenes while writing stronger, more complicated and complex leading ladies.   Book three, Cowgirl Up and Ride, brings us to Sundance, Wyoming where the remainder of the 17 novels are set and James picks up her pace in terms of building out a universe with complicated family lines, land disputes and plenty of single people looking for love.

The formula of the cowboy hero can withstand only so much variation.  Characters have to be young, handsome, strong from spending the day lifting bales of hay or hours in the saddle and James doesn’t stray far from the mold.  James uses her heroines to bring diversity to the universe.  We don’t see the same type of mold for the women of Rough Riders. Each woman is unique and her struggles for independence and autonomy provide the consistent narrative arch against which she must find a love worthy of her.   Our hero must then find a way to let down the tough guise exterior and make himself vulnerable enough to be loved. 

Good Read reviewers would have you believe that the series really pivots on book three, but of the series, that turned out to be my least favorite couple.  Again, knowing there was more to the series allowed me to push on and stick with James and I was rewarded with Tied Up, Tide Down and what remains my favorite of the series, Rough, Raw and Ready – one of a handful of MMF romances that are worthy of being novels and not half-baked erotic stories.  

From there on in, James continues to use a consistent voice, variations on a character theme, and distinctly relevant conflicts to create a world of characters that will remain among my favorite in the literary world.  But I wouldn’t have gotten there without a bit of patience and optimism, fuelled by James’s wonderful writing style and a deep back catalog for me to work my way through.