Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Pieces of Sky," by Kaki Warner

The Chick: Jessica Thornton. When her brother-in-law rapes her to try and get her to sign over the deed of her estate, this English miss (now pregnant) flees to America, only to be injured in a stage coach crash.
The Rub: She's rescued by the Wilkins clan, led by the rustic but charming Brady, and discovers she'll have to live on their charity for three months to recover from her injuries - will that be enough time to let Brady into her heart?
Dream Casting: Amy Adams.

The Dude: Brady Wilkins. He quickly finds himself falling for this beautiful Briton who is battered, but not broken.
The Rub: However, with a murderous psycho bent on destroying the Wilkins now on the loose, can he afford to be distracted from his family duties?
Dream Casting: Josh Brolin.

The Plot:

Here's the story, of a man named Brady,
A rowdy cowboy who would never ever tire.
Determined to protect those who he loved most,
From a kook obsessed with fire.

Here's the story, of an English lady.
Who was made pregnant by a sexual assault.
So in fear, she fled across an ocean,
Unsure that it wasn't her fault.

*Key Change!* So when this lady is lost and injured,
Brady takes her in without any hope of thanks.
They love each other, but it takes a whole book,
To overcome the huge-ass Brady Angst.

The Brady Angst, the Brady Angst.
Four Hundred Pages of the Brady Angst!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Proper English Miss

1 Darn-Tootin' Cowpoke

1 Blood Feud

1 Psychopathic Pyromaniac

1 Evil Brother-in-Law

2 Hawt Sequel-Baiting Brothers

1 Rape

1 Near-Rape

Several Deaths By Fire

2 Rockers

1 Smelly Dog

The Word: Jessica Thornton is five months pregnant, alone, and on the run in a foreign country. However, as bleak as her situation appears, it's more palatable than what she leaves behind in England: a malicious brother-in-law who proved beyond all doubt that he was willing to do anything to get his hands on her estate, Bickersham Hall - including rape her. Unable to tell her sister the truth, and knowing her husband would try again unless she signed over the deed, Jessica chose to flee to America instead on the flimsy hope that she'll be able to find her brother George in the New Mexico Territory.

En route to the last address she received from George, she meets up with a rugged, uncouth rancher named Brady Wilkins when she unknowingly whacks his Brady bunches with her umbrella. When their stagecoach overturns, he goes for help and Jessica wakes up in a bedroom in RosaRoja, his ranch. There, a doctor gives her a double-dose of upsetting news - first, that she's carrying twins, and second, that she must remain bedridden until the babies are born.

Brady sympathizes with Jessica and her plight, but he's got concerns of his own. The ranch demands a lot of his time, his two brothers are dropping hints that they might want out of the family business, and on top of that, a batshit insane survivor of a blood-feud in the Wilkins' past has been released from prison and shows every sign of wanting to avenge past hurts.

Whether they want it or not, however, our protagonists are stuck together and need to make the best of things. The first thing they have to overcome (if not the most important) is the culture shock. In these first few chapters, Pieces of Sky reminded me strongly of Baz Luhrman's movie, Australia - in both cases, we start out with a delicate English lady discovering firsthand the roughness of farming and cattle-ranching, as embodied by the dirty, sweaty, unshaven, angsty hero.

There are a lot of instances where neither one has an idea what the other is saying (apparently, Yanks don't understand big words, and Brits don't know ranch slang), with a little bit of bias leaning towards Brady, who says what he thinks (if rudely), over Jessica, who says a lot of Big Words that don't really mean anything. Kaki Warner does a fantastic job demonstrating the cultural differences between Jessica and Brady - while I understand both of them, I also comprehend how one person's mannerisms or speech could be so alien to the other.

For the most part, the novel's sense of pacing is well-handled. This is a slow and sweet romance, rather than a quick and dirty one. Jessica, very understandably, requires considerable time and care before she'll even consider a sexual relationship with a man. Most of the romance moves forward thanks to words, kind actions, hand-holding and kissing. In a masterful use of balance, Brady comes off as raw, unadulterated, honest, and honestly sexual - even though for most of the book he doesn't do more than kiss Jessica.

Praise should also be given to the excellent setting, which has as much importance in the narrative as a living character. It's obvious that a lot of time and research went into the creation of RosaRoja, the landscape, the ranchers who take care of it, and the real, often backbreaking work these men did even during the good times. Lots of lesser romances have business tycoons or millionaires who rarely have any scenes where they're doing actual work, but Brady and the Wilkins brothers give their all to their ranch.

As for the protagonists, they're both well-developed - mostly. This time I actually enjoyed the heroine more, for a change. She's all starch and stiff-upper-lip at the outset, loosening gradually under the unorthodox kindness of the Wilkins family, but a strong and capable character throughout. She's been through hell and has some pretty serious psychological scars to overcome, but she's practical and analytical - there are many poignant scenes when emotions get the better of her, but at her core, she's a woman who thinks, which is a refreshing change. Near the end of the novel, when Brady decides at the 11th hour to fall off the angst-bandwagon and send her away for her own good, Jessica actually calls him on his bullshit instead of just fleeing in tears.

As for Brady, his courtship of Jessica is incredibly sweet. He's the down-to-earth cowboy and doesn't brook a great deal of nonsense. He treats most problems like the Gordian knot, ignoring the subtleties and just cutting right through to a solution, much like Alexander the Great who, in the myth of the Gordian Knot, solved a puzzling twist of rope by simply slicing through it with his sword. Jessica surrounds herself with needless rules and social mores and upperclass mannerisms in order to protect herself, so it takes a man who sees that fluff for what it is (fluff), to deal with her emotions directly to help her heal.

That being said, while his romance with Jessica reveals the better part of his character, he's somewhat inconsistent in his feud against Sancho (the sociopath stalking the Wilkins). While I understood that to protect his ranch and his family he had to break a few rules, in some instances he is startlingly sadistic and cruel. One scene in particular really disturbed me, enough that instead of bogging down this review with it I will make an independent post discussing it. As well, while he has reasons for his angst, it becomes overwhelming at times.

This leads me to some more of the novel's flaws - first off, the ending. In a move strikingly similar to the conclusion of A Bride in the Bargain, after the hero and heroine admit their love for each other, something contrived happens that makes the hero send the heroine away for a year for no reason other than ridiculous angst, which stretches out the novel's last act to an absurd degree. It's pointless, it's unnecessary, and it's damn boring to read forty pages of Brady moping, refusing to answer Jessica's letters, chasing himself in circles of "Should I go to England to see her? No, I won't," until suddenly he smacks his head and says, "Why not go to England?" Gee whiz, you finally realized what you already claimed to know, FORTY FLIPPIN' PAGES AGO?!
Lastly, we have the writing style - Kaki Warner tells. A lot. Occasionally it's not as bad or noticeable since she tends to tell a lot of little things instead of making an egregious blanket description of a big thing - for example, she'll say: "The wind was blowing. The mesquite trees were tall. The sky was a ripe colour of red and gold" instead of, say, "The scenery was beautiful." But it's still telling instead of showing and as a result the novel is pleasant to read but not wholly emotionally engaging. I think the highlight of her tell-over-showing occurs in the laughably truncated sex scene. I'm all for vague sex scenes, but the one in Pieces of Sky on page 317 skims over it so clumsily it's almost funny.

While the novel is well-researched and starts out strong, it eventually peters out thanks to lacklustre writing. While I don't feel the last couple of days reading it were wasted, I am thankful I got this book at the library and didn't pay the trade-paperback price for it.
B

3 comments:

  1. I have been itching to read this book and it's in my shopping cart at Chapter's because it's like $4 cheaper to order it online. But the SECOND Fantasies in Death is released, this will be winging it's way to me - along of course with Fantasies in Death.

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  2. Looking at the cover, I would have never thought that this was a historical romance. And in trade paperback too... :o

    Great review...

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  3. I'm not a big Western romance fan but I really enjoyed this one. Loved the scenes where they hold hands on the porch and sit in rocking chairs.

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