PUBLICATION DATE: APRIL 03, 2012
s much as Gracelyn Riley hates to be separated from her best friend, Connie, she couldn’t be more excited about being shipped off to Oregon to stay with her Uncle Lou until the Spanish influenza epidemic calms down in Boston. Rumour has it that the infamous Agent Striker has been spotted not far from her uncle’s ranch, and if she can get an interview with him, this could be her big break into journalism. Gracie is tired of living under her parents’ control and a career as a journalist would allow her to avoid being married off to an unappealing society gentleman.
Unfortunately her initial experiences at the ranch are unexciting, and Gracie spends more time scrubbing floors and helping to prepare meals than hunting for clues about Striker. The townsfolk in nearby Burns won’t say a word about Striker, and the only interesting aspect of life with Uncle Lou is his neighbour, Trevor. Gracie isn’t entirely sure what Trevor’s relationship to her uncle is, but the scar on his face certainly makes him intriguing. She’s convinced that if anyone knows anything about Striker, it must be Trevor. But as their horse-riding lessons progress into something far deeper, Gracie has to figure out where her heart truly lies. Up until she met Trevor, she was convinced that she’d leave Oregon as soon as the flu epidemic was over and she had an interview with Striker, but now she’s unsure. But her attraction to Trevor doesn’t stop her poking her head into places where it doesn’t belong, and sooner or later, she finds herself involved in a situation that’s far more dangerous than she ever expected to find on a ranch in Oregon…
I’m particularly fond of strong heroines, but they’re not as easy to come by in historical romances as you might expect. Often the archetypal romance heroine is the kind that continually needs rescuing or is prone to fainting at the drop of a hat. I’d like to say that Gracelyn was sort of a mixture between a strong heroine and the typical romantic heroine, but she’s not quite that straight forward. She seemed very strong at times and was incredibly sure of herself and what she wanted to do in life, but at the same time she was only twenty, and still quite vulnerable and naive. While she wanted nothing more than to travel around Oregon on a horse, hunting for Striker, she didn’t realise what a dangerous position she was putting herself in. Headstrong, but not always wise in the ways of the world, Gracie was a very appealing heroine, the kind that I cared about but was also quite proud of in places. It’s not often that I find this mixture in historical novels, especially category romances such as the Love Inspired line that Love on the Range is part of.
The characterisation in this novel isn’t the only thing that made it stand out for me. Love on the Range happens to be the second novel set in 1918 that I’ve read in 2012, and while the subject matter and plot of Jessica’s novel are very different from Murray Pura’s The Wings of Morning, both of them made me realise what a precarious time period it was to live in. Not only was the First World War on the verge of ending, but the country was being destroyed by a horrible Spanish flu which many of the returning soldiers caught when they returned home. Technological changes were taking place, some of which hadn’t yet reached Uncle Lou’s ranch in Oregon, such as a telephone, which separated Gracie from her friends and family in Boston. It was also a difficult period for women, who were starting to wear trousers and work in factories due to the necessities of contributing to the war effort, but other women were determined to put an end to this liberalisation once the war was over. Gracie struck me as a woman stuck between two worlds, protected by her conservative upbringing yet determined to embrace all of these new possibilities that were opening up for women, particularly by wearing trousers and writing articles for a newspaper.
While I loved the plot and characterisation of Love on the Range, I did struggle when it came to some of the structural issues when it came to the story telling. As with many romance novels, Love on the Range was written in third-person point of view but did show the hero and heroine’s perspective on matters. I definitely prefer novels that show the hero’s point of view to those that don’t, but I felt that Jessica “head-hopped” between Gracie and Trevor a bit too much for my liking, it could become quite distracting when it occurred in the middle of a scene without me realising it. One minute Gracie would be talking and I’d get a snippet of her internal thoughts, but then three lines later I’d realise that the thoughts I were reading were actually Trevor’s, and that the perspective had changed without me noticing. Incidents like this jerked me out of my reading experience and I often had to reread the whole page before I got caught up in the story again. My other minor issue regarded the action scenes, which definitely broke the monotony of the typical historical romance, but sometimes sped by so fast and were resolved a bit too easily and conveniently for my liking. One of them went by in such a flash that I had to go back and check that I hadn’t missed anything vital. For the most part, my issues with the structuring of certain scenes didn’t affect my enjoyment of the novel too much, but they did occasionally interrupt the flow of reading.
It’s incredibly encouraging to come across such an unusual storyline and protagonist in a debut novel, particularly one in the Love Inspired category romance line, where authors have a smaller number of pages in which to tell their story. Love on the Range will appeal to long-term fans of historical romance, particularly those who are looking for something a bit different that pushes the usual boundaries. While the scene progression of the novel didn’t always flow as well as it could have, I’m confident that this is something that Jessica will be able to improve on in her next novel, which I’ll be keeping my eye out for.