With a fair chunk of romance novels under my belt now, I’ve developed a few tentative hypotheses and correlations about the genre. One of these is that the more ridiculous the hero’s name, the more fun the book. (I remember fondly a book last year involving a hero called Obediah “Dyer” Straits.) If this correlation holds true, then with names like Slade, Hutch and Boone, it’s little wonder I’ve enjoyed Linda Lael Miller’s Big Sky series.
Part of what makes Miller’s books such a delight is the humour that infuses them. She’s not at all afraid to plant tongue firmly in cheek as she writes, and there are plenty of fun little metafictional moments in her books. A personal favourite is that the aforementioned Slade is named after a hero in one of his mother’s favourite romance novels. Hermeneutic recursiveness at its best, folks! In this one, too, we have a bit of a piss-take regarding our hilariously named hero: “Boone?” thinks our heroine Tara. “Good heavens, even his name was redneck.”
Miller has an inordinate amount of fun pairing up poor Boone, an overworked widower who lives in a rundown trailer, with Tara, a Mercedes-driving city girl who owns a snazzy property with a lovely view of said rundown trailer. Tara’s attempting to transform from urban to chicken farmer despite an utter inability to harm so much as a feather on a fowl, while Boone is trying to learn the ropes of fatherhood–and learning pretty quickly that an entertainment system comprising an old black and white TV doesn’t hack it with the youth of today. The fish-out-of-water trope is milked to delightful effect here, and Miller good-humouredly skewers both city and country natives by contrasting the two to highly entertaining effect.
As with the other stories in the Big Sky series, we have a Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett animosity-turning-to-love type narrative on our hands, only of course in this case our Mr Darcy is still only on ten thousand a year (not quite so impressive in 2013) and has a toilet blooming with flowers in his front yard. And our Lizzie has a thing for chicken eggs and overalls. Oh, and both have kids/step-kids from previous marriages. Often I’m not a huge fan of romance novels that are overrun with wee ones, because it’s very easy for the story to become more focused instead on the adults’ interactions with their kids, and that is an issue here. That said, the youngsters in this are surprisingly enjoyable to read about, and much of the character growth we see from Boone and Tara occurs because of their interactions with their own and each others’ kids.
Unfortunately, although we spend quite a bit of time watching Boone and Tara develop their relationship with their kids, their own romantic relationship is given far less page space. At the beginning of the book the two have only met a handful of times in passing, so it’s not as though they’re building on a relationship that was begun and aborted some time in the past, which from memory is the case for the two previous books in this series. Because of this, the shift from using each other as babysitters (and general sources of consternation) to moving in together seems abrupt at best, and though I appreciate that (minor spoiler alert, but c’mon, it’s a romance, you know how it ends) Miller allows a bit of a postponement to the formalising of the HEA, it still feels as though their relationship has emerged, fully formed, out of thin air.
I think partly my ambivalence over this whole series is that it falls somewhere in between romance and women’s fiction, and doesn’t quite fit with my expectations regarding the conventions of either genre. Although a romance is certainly present, it’s not the key story arc. Much of the story, in fact–and of the series as a whole–is focused on the town and townsfolk of the small town of Parable. If anything, it’s more a novelisation of a soap opera than it is a romance novel.
And yet, my repeated misgivings about the lack of emphasis on the romances in this series aside, I really have enjoyed reading these. Miller writes settings and people you want to get caught up in, and even if half the book is about water towers and puppies (and kittens and chickens etc) rather than smouldering looks and spunky men in tight jeans, there’s something delightful in sitting back and letting her imagined worlds and cheeky names wash over you. I’m looking forward to the fourth in the series, which should be released mid this year.
With thanks to Harlequin Australia for the review copy
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